1 year after Parkland: Warning signs in mental health of active shooters

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As we approach one year since a gunman killed 17 people inside a Parkland, Florida, high school, some are taking a closer look at how mental health can play a role in these events. 

Part of the conversation also has to do with identifying risk factors and getting people the help they need before they resort to violence. Mental health workers believe this is a focus that will save lives.

Dr. Christine Cauffield, a licensed clinical psychologist and CEO for Lutheran Services Florida Health Systems, said in most cases, active shooters are young males who have experienced mental health issues daily for at least one year before the attack -- as is the case with the man charged in the Parkland shooting.

The description also fits the gunman who opened fire during a video gaming tournament at The Jacksonville Landing last year.

"It really speaks to the necessity to have access to mental health counseling, medication, substance abuse treatment," Cauffield said.

She adds that young shooters, including teens, often experience extreme isolation, anger issues, and a fascination with weapons or other shooters. She said trauma experienced in the early years and feelings of self-worth can be factors too.

"They're despairing. Oftentimes, they have homicidal ideation. They make comments or gestures that indicate violent aggression," Cauffield explained.

There have also been some events that were different in the sense that the shooter was older or middle-aged. That includes the mass shooting at the outdoor country music festival in Las Vegas.

While the motive is still unclear in that case, Cauffield said in cases where the shooter is older, one of the main issues is depression, fueled by anger and rage.

"We often find that these individuals don't internalize their discomfort. They externalize and act out to other human beings,” Caulfield said.

All of these factors point to the importance of people knowing that if they see something, they should say something.

"Reach out. Call the authorities,” Cauffield urged. “It's better to err on the side of caution and get this person the help that they need."

Lutheran Services Florida Health Systems serves dozens of counties in Florida. It offers help and treatment to people who need it. For assistance, you can visit their website or call the LSF Access to Care line: 1-877-229-9098. It is manned 24 hours a day by a clinical team. 

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