GENEVA – After a mass shooting, the national conversation often turns to the issue of mental health and its culpability in violent behavior. But while mental illness can be a factor in some shootings, according to Sarah Lloyd, licensed clinical professional counselor and co-owner of Action Consulting Therapy LLC in Geneva, it’s not the cause of most violent outbursts.
While Lloyd clearly stated she cannot speculate on the mental health of Gary Montez Martin, who killed five co-workers in Aurora Feb. 15 and doesn't know the details of his case, she emphasized that most people with a diagnosed mental illness do not commit violent acts like the one on Friday, and that there are often other complex reasons for such behavior.
“There is no psychological profile or set of warning signs that can definitely predict violence,” she said. “There are some predictors of possible future gun violence, like criminal past or history of aggressive behavior, history of property damage and vandalism, lack of empathy or cruelty to animals. Violence is often a learned behavior and if there is violence in the home or guns in the home, violence can be used as a response to some circumstances.”
She said that Martin may have known that things weren’t going well at his job and could have had a violent plan in place. Lloyd referred to that as “instrumental aggression,” which is when someone plans violence in a way that causes harm, and is intentional. That type of violence is difficult to predict because when someone is planning an act of violence, they don’t often show warning signs because they want to accomplish their goal, she said.
Some behaviors that can predict possible short-term violence include: increased episodes of anger or irritability, physical fighting, greater use of drugs or alcohol, increased risk-taking feeling alone or isolated and purchasing a gun, Lloyd explained.
“I don’t know the specific details [of the Aurora shooting], but he was in an escalated situation and unless the business had seen worrisome or aggressive behavior or knew his criminal past, it’s hard to know,” she said. “People get fired from jobs every day and they don’t commit acts of violence. There is a lot of conflict in the world. We all have stress and escalated situations, but the majority of us don’t commit violent acts.”
According the Lloyd, there are several possible motives for violent or aggressive behavior:
Expression, when someone feels extreme anger, frustration or disillusionment and feels like there are no answers and wants to get attention;
Manipulation, when someone tries to control others or get something that they want; and
Retaliation, when someone acts out against those who they feel have hurt them.
However, she cautions that even professionals have only a “moderate level” of ability to predict who will become violent.
“There are many complex reasons for violent behavior and we’re trying to focus on prevention for all instead of prediction, like campaigns to keep guns locked up and safely stored,” she said.
“There hasn’t been much research on gun violence because of political pressure, but we can develop community programs aimed at helping at-risk families. We know people with guns kill people. It’s not just a gun issue or just a mental health issue. There needs to be a multi-faceted approach.”
If someone sees troubling behavior or possible warning signs in a family member of friend, Lloyd recommends bringing the person to a mental health facility for a behavioral threat assessment or mental health evaluation. She said that minors can be forced into treatment, but it’s harder to intervene for resistant adults.
“People do often respond well to treatment. Adults can get help for underlying anger issues and learn coping skills,” she said. “Mental health providers can offer strategies to cope with emotion and help people build skills necessary to identify and recognize their emotions.”