Responding to shooting tragedies

December 21, 2012 12:10 pm

We are all shocked, saddened and angered by recent violent events in Oregon and Connecticut. How do we begin to make sense of these horrific acts? 

The reality is that these events were senseless, and we may never know what motivated the individuals who committed these atrocities. However, it is important that we know how to respond to the questions children may have in the face of such tragedies. It is also important that we examine our own reactions.

As I have listened to reports on the motives and possible explanations for these acts of violence, I have heard numerous speculations as to whether the shooters may have had a mental illness or were in some way mentally impaired.

There were reports that the perpetrator in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism. Does that mean any individual with a mental illness or Autism Spectrum Disorder is to be considered dangerous and feared? Absolutely not!

There are those who believe that individuals with a mental disorder are dangerous and should be institutionalized or in some way kept out of the mainstream of society.  

In fact, research indicates that people with mental illness or Autism Spectrum Disorder are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators. While we do hospitalize individuals who actively present a danger to self or others, we do not, and should not, hospitalize anyone on the mistaken belief that they may become dangerous. 

There are many violent acts that are committed by individuals who have no history of violence or diagnosis of a mental illness. 

The reality is that we cannot predict, with any certainty, just who might commit a violent act. What we can all do is gain a more educated view and understanding of those who may have a mental disability, promote better access to mental health treatment for those in need, and engage in a reasoned dialogue about firearms as a community health concern that does not become steeped in rhetoric.

What we can do, locally

There are many readers of this message who will be asking, “What can we do, locally, in reaction to these events?” There are a number of excellent, on-line resources for parents and others to reference for ideas about talking with children about the recent shootings. 

Links to these resources can be found by going to the Center for Human Development website at The link to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network site contains tips on parenting after a traumatic event and includes film clips. 

In addition, the CHD website contains a link to the Oregon Addictions and Mental Health Division, which has put together links to useful resources. 

If you are concerned about changes in, or unusual behaviors of, an adolescent or young adult, you can get information about CHD’s Early Assessment and Support Alliance program for identifying and treating first symptoms of a mental illness. 

More information on this program can be found by visiting CHD’s website or by calling us at 541-962-8800.

CHD maintains a 24-hour crisis response for assessing an individual who may present a danger to self or others. The crisis worker can be reached any time, day or night, by calling our main number at 541-962-8800. Our community also has many local resources such as private practice therapists, school counselors, clergy and national helplines.

The important message to remember is that the more we can support one another in times of crisis, the healthier our entire community will be.


Dwight Dill is the mental health director of the Center for Human Development, Inc.