Part of risk assessment in the mental health profession is, not surprisingly, risk. If mental health professionals, or anyone else who employs risk assessment in any profession or industry, could be certain about outcomes, then either risk assessment as a method to predict would be unnecessary or we’d use some word other than “risk” to describe the assessment we’re performing.
What is the risk in the assessment?
It’s not about “being wrong” per se though the failure to assess the risk in accordance with how acts finally play out does, at a base level, equal “being wrong.” It’s whether the person or situation that you’re assessing behaves as you anticipated.
And, in the course of any single day, we know how often antipated routines or behaviors or sequences fail to materialize. Just yesterday, my mother told me about how the New Haven post office was unreachable on Monday, April 16, the day before taxes were due, because of flooding – and she was trying to deliver her taxes (which is why the federal government has extended the tax deadline for people in the Northeast).
But it can also be a sick child with whom you have to stay home or take to the doctor and cancel meetings. Or the drunk driver you can’t possibly plan for who plows into your path, or the path of someone you know or love. Or the prankster dropping bricks from an overpass onto your car (I was actually in the car with my parents heading to a July 4th party at Judge Peter Sikora’s house one summer when that happened to us – just dented the roof, thank goodness).
During different parts of yesterday’s excellent Diane Rehm Show (I got to listen as I drove to YSU), New York Times writer Fox Butterfield mentioned elements from his report, published in this NYT article published seven years ago, “They Threaten, Seeth and Unhinge, Then They Kill in Quantity” that reinforced my belief about the role of risk assessment and those who do it in the VaTech incident. Among other things, the report describes the most common traits of people who commit mass killings.
And while we’re learning that many folks along the path of Seung-Hui Cho detected disturbances and even went so far as to make mental health and law enforcement contacts about his demeanor and expressions, still – here we are, three days after a sadly no longer unimaginable tragedy.
More guns, fewer guns. It won’t make a difference if we don’t 1) accept that risk means someone gets through (and by accepting that risk, stop looking to blame everyone and anyone – yes, we can do better, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop every single person with such goals) and 2) change society’s expectation of and reaction to “loners.”
What did you do with the loners you knew? Did you make them even more alone? Or did you think about what it must feel like to be alone and wonder what has helped you most when you felt that way?
I don’t always know whether I believe in God or not, but for those who do, then you most likely accept that some acts in life are unpreventable. You live with a constant tension between free choice and predestination. And seeking to prevent devastation like the Virginia Tech incident has caused will drive you to the edge, like the shooter, if you don’t free yourself by realizing, there is only so much you can do.
And it has nothing to do with guns and everything to do with how each one of us treats every other one of us.