School Violence and Social Anxiety Disorder

Blog Posts About Violence in Schools and SAD

A collection of stories about school violence.
School violence is sometimes linked to social anxiety. RyanJLane / Getty Images

The following articles were originally posted as blog posts. Please note the original dates of publication and that the stories were current as of that date.

The Makings of a Killer

(August 31, 2007)

Seung-Hui Cho, the 23 year-old Virginia Tech student who opened fire killing 33 people including himself on April 16th, 2007, is said to have suffered from Selective Mutism, a rare and extreme form of social anxiety, in which the sufferer is unable to speak in certain settings (e.g., the classroom). Cho received accommodations for the disorder during high school, however due to federal privacy and disability laws, officials at Virginia Tech were unaware of his diagnosis and no provisions were offered during his college years.

A debate has ensued regarding the need to balance privacy and awareness with regard to mental health issues in college students. Unfortunately, the disclosure of Cho’s condition raises more questions than it does provide answers. Research has not linked social anxiety to violence and so it isn’t clear what role the disorder, and the lack of support in college, played in Cho’s actions. Perhaps at the very least, colleges will become more vigilant about referring troubled students to receive counseling or needed support.

Lessons Learned from Columbine and Virginia Tech

(December 16, 2007)

What do the tragedies of Columbine and Virginia Tech have in common? According to psychologist Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D., a researcher at the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University, school shooters usually suffer from something called cynical shyness. Cynically shy students are most often male, rejected by peers, angry, and have poor family relations.

As part of a study presented at the 115th annual convention of the American Psychological Association, Carducci and Kristin Terry Nethery examined eight school shootings from 1995 to 2004 and found that school shooters managed their rejection by creating a “cult of one”. This self-imposed isolation helps to manage feelings of rejection but makes violent retaliation much more probable.

What can we do to prevent future tragedies? Carducci suggests that teachers, parents and mental health professionals need to watch for students who become isolated and angry. Although the majority of shy students never retaliate with violence, for those that are susceptible, there need to be links to bring them back into the community.

Making Sense of Tragedy: Sandy Hook Elementary

(December 16, 2012)

As I sat down to write this blog entry my first reaction was: "I should write about the school shooting. But I really don't want to."

I sat and watched a bit of the television coverage on Friday and just kept wondering why it was so sensationalistic. I am tired. I am sad. And I am heartbroken for those families. I want to know why this happened, but at the same time I feel like the media has taken things too far.

I thought about how I would feel if my 4-year-old daughter never came home after I sent her to school that morning on the bus. I thought about the children who survived and how their world will never be the same.

I thought about the words that were being tossed around about the young man who did this horrible thing.





And then I read the reports about how he may have had a mental disorder. Asperger's, which is a mild form of autism. How he was a loner. Intelligent. Quiet. Shy.

I knew I had to write about him but I am still conflicted.

Because there are many more people with mental health problems who don't kill innocent children. It is said that guns don't kill people, people kill people. But I wonder if this young man had not had access to guns, would he have ever even contemplated doing what he did. And if the media did not sensationalize killers as they do, would it have made a difference.

I do believe education about mental health issues and better access to treatment are important. Perhaps someone could have made a difference in this young man's life to change the course that he took.

I haven't mentioned his name, because I don't feel it is important anymore.

Let's remember the victims at Sandy Hook Elementary instead.

Colorado Shootings Leave Us Wondering "Why?"

(July 22, 2012)

Like everyone else, I was shocked and saddened to learn the news about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado late last week. I don't normally jump on the 'breaking news' bandwagon, but in this case I find myself wondering (as I'm sure most people are)... why? Why would anyone ever do such a horrific thing.

Some people are blaming the gun laws in the United States. Some reporters are asking about safety in public places and better security. I think these arguments will continue to circle until we find out the 'why'.

Several points from the news about the alleged shooter James Holmes have been making me cringe a little...

  • He was quiet.
  • He was a loner.
  • He lived alone and kept to himself.

We can only speculate at this point as far as the motive for the killings, but many believe something must have pushed him to a breaking point.

The pressure of the PhD he was pursuing?

I've known a lot of PhD students, and although they are under pressure that alone is certainly no reason for what happened.

I am just hopeful that we don't have another Seung-Hui Cho situation.

Cho, also known as the Virginia Tech Shooter, suffered with selective mutism (a disorder that makes it impossible to speak in certain situations). While his social anxiety played a role in bringing him to a breaking point, he obviously had other issues that caused him to become violent.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) on its own is not a cause of increased risk of violence. Research has shown, however, that people who are impulsive and socially anxious may be prone to violence and risky behaviors. If it is found that James Holmes suffered with social anxiety, it will not help to relieve the stigma that people with the disorder already face.

In addition, if Holmes is found to suffer with a mental disorder that led to the violence, then I think the failure is on the part of those who could have recognized the problem; not the gun laws, or the security in public places. Somebody somewhere knew that something was not quite right with this young man.

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