Saving Students in Crisis: Intervention and Assessment
(NewsNation) — When teens are going through a mental health crisis — which can lead them to harm themselves or others — schools are often the first line of defense. Teachers, administrators, counselors, parents and other students all have a role to play in identifying the warning signs.
For Michele Gay, the issue of school shootings is personal. She lost her daughter in the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012.
In the aftermath, she co-founded the organization Safe & Sound Schools to advocate for safety with a focus on identifying warning signs and implementing interventions.
“Some of the basic interventions that we see working (in) our schools are universal measures” applicable everywhere, Gay said. “It’s things like anti-bullying campaigns or building relationships, making sure every child has a trusted adult in the school community, making sure our culture is one of acceptance.”
Beyond universal measures, there are also more targeted and intensive interventions that can focus on individual students if something goes wrong.
“We have things like social supports and routine checkups with students, with each other, with these trusted adults, with school counselors and school psychologists, with coaches and teachers, really trying to connect. children to positive relationships and ensuring they have ownership of their community,” said Gay.
Gay also pointed to behavioral threat assessment teams as an important tool for schools to prevent violence. These teams are typically made up of teachers, administrators, and school safety officials who work together to identify possible threats, assess the nature of the threat, and then manage the threat through interventions such as counseling or conferencing. of parents. This approach was successful in preventing some attacks.
“What we’ve learned over the years building our team of experts, reaching out to school psychologists and threat assessment professionals, (as well as) mental health professionals, is that it’s really needs a layered approach,” she said.
These teams assess the risk of violence and implement interventions designed to address the underlying issues. Assessments aren’t necessarily punitive either, but designed to intervene before someone commits a crime or gets hurt.
Mental health and school safety experts point to a number of indicators to look for. Teenagers who plan an act of violence sometimes make remarks that indicate violent intent.
“So there’s content that’s important — like, what kind of stuff are they writing about?” said Dr. Carolina Castaños, an Austin, Texas-based therapist who specializes in family therapy.
She noted that students at risk of committing acts of violence often make advance threats or have angry outbursts.
The Texas shooter reportedly sent a private message on social media announcing his intention. Additionally, the Buffalo mass shooting suspect reportedly made “disturbing comments regarding the murder/suicide” last year.
These types of threats could be seen as an example of “leakage,” one of two categories of warning signs for school shootings identified by Dr. Peter Langman, a psychologist who has spent years studying shooters in the schools. In his book, Langman describes leaks as “what people say” while attack behavior is “what people do”.
Attack-related behavior refers to any behavior that is done in anticipation of an attack. This can be to buy weapons or to monitor the future site of the attack.
The Texas gunman reportedly moved in with his grandmother after a fight with his mother and bought two guns a week before the attack.
Langman warns that “there is no guaranteed way to predict or prevent violence,” which means we shouldn’t think of these warning signs as hard and fast information.
There are also behaviors that can serve as a sign of a student’s mental health crisis that do not revolve around publicity or planning for an impending attack.
“They may not be taking care of their…bodies,” Castaños said.
A student who has a noticeable decline in personal hygiene or has a disheveled appearance could be going through a mental health crisis.
Castaños emphasized that we should consistently prioritize mental well-being, the same way we think about physical health.
“It’s important for us to recognize that mental health is not something you consider when you’re feeling anxious, depressed, when things are really bad for you, you know?” she says. “Mental health is something you work on every day.”