Local Forensic Psychologist Discusses Mental Health & Violence

He says very few violent acts results from mental illness.


Frederick, Md (KM). Whenever there is a mass shooting in the US, either in a school or another location, Americans wonder how it happened and what could have prevented it. Dr. Timothy Gibian, a local forensic psychologist, addressed that issue during last weekend’s “Success Happens”: on WFMD.

Many Americans say the person who pulled the trigger was mentally ill. “In common sense way, sure. We could say a reasonable person would never do that. But that really begs the bigger question of what is mental illness? how does it play a role in mass shootings? how does it play a role in violence in general,” says Dr. Gibian.

But he says only a small percentage of violent behavior results from mental illness. “The research actually shows that about 4% of violent behavior is due to mental illness,” he says. “People may think that a lot of violent behavior is a function of mental illness, but it isn’t, if you define mental illness in term of psychosis like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, major depression.”

Since the mass shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there were reports in the news media that the Broward County Sheriff’s Office had received tips about alleged gunman,Nikolas Cruze, 19, had planned to carry out a shooting at the school. The FBI had also received similar information. But neither agency acted on it.

Dr. Gibian says it’s very difficult to predict whether troubled individuals will become violent. “We hoped we could predict violent behavior. We looked at social science research, psychological research. We did a lousy job of predicting behavior,” he says. “Violent behavior doesn’t occur that much. It’s gets a lot of attention. Things that don’t occur that much are very hard to predict.”

There are also people who say more religion in our lives would  tame violent behavior. But Dr. Gibian said church attendance is down in European counties, but they have fewer crimes involving guns unlike the United States. “The United States is a fairly religious, liberal democracy {in the generic sense}. We go to church more. We claim to be faith-based more,”: he says. “But our gun violence and violence in general is much than in those countries. So it doesn’t make sense to me that it’s a faith issues. It’s a gun issue.”

Last year, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office foiled a plot by a student at Catoctin High to blow up the school. Her father read her journal which contained her plans, which said she would die during that time, and notified officials at the school who contacted the Sheriff’s Office.

With this case in mind, Dr. Gibian said it’s important for parents to intervene if they feel their children seem troubled. “I think you have to ask just very directly of the people in your household if you sense anything. Ask directly: what are their thoughts? And ultimately, you have to say ‘are you thinking of hurting yourself? Have you had any thoughts of hurting somebody else?’ It’s a taboo subject,” he says.

In addition, Dr. Gabian says, if there are guns in the home, make sure they’re locked up.

He says help is available for situations like these. Dr. Gabian says people can call 211, or contact the Mental Health Association of Frederick County at 301-663-0011.


By Kevin McManus