Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mental Health Strategies Sought in Wake of Massacre; by Dara Kam

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mental Health Strategies Sought in Wake of Massacre; by Dara Kam

Article excerpt

Byline: News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE -- Better integration of data, coordination of care and services and early screening and assessment were among recommendations a panel of mental health experts offered Tuesday at a workshop organized by Gov. Rick Scott in response to last week's shooting rampage by a troubled 19-year-old that left 17 people -- including 14 teenagers -- dead.

Nikolas Cruz was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder after gunning down students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Cruz had a lengthy history of mental-health issues, and the FBI received at least two reports that he posed a threat to others.

In response to the mass shooting, Scott ordered workgroups focused on education, law enforcement and mental health, with the aim of proposing legislation before the annual 60-day session ends March 9.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera posed the first question at the meeting Tuesday about mental-health issues led by Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll.

"What is it about the young males in their development or external factors or media or society that drives them to do these unspeakable horrific things? Because It's males. They're doing it. And I haven't heard anything about that," Lopez-Cantera asked.

The experts said that just a fraction of mentally ill people -- between 1 and 4 percent -- become violent.

"The angry young men is a pretty big group, but we're talking about a very small group that present a risk in our schools," said child psychiatrist R. Scott Benson.

But Dean Aufderheide, director of mental health services for the Florida Department of Corrections, said sociopaths need to be identified through screening before they can commit heinous crimes like the Parkland massacre.

"Who are these people? People who tend to have no empathy. No remorse. No guilt," Aufderheide, a psychologist, said.

Telltale behaviors include isolation, alienation, ostracization, escape and anger, Aufderheide said.

"If you don't measure for this to identify these traits you're doing a disservice," he said.

But Florida State University College of Medicine professor Heather Flynn warned against contributing to the stigma of mental illness.

"We have to be careful not to inadvertently contribute to the notion that people with mental illness are dangerous. That's something we've been trying to get away from for all these decades and centuries," Flynn, a clinical psychologist, said.

Carroll, too, was cautious about branding children with mental-health issues.

"How do you integrate that (assessment) into a school system but do it in a way that's positive, that doesn't ostracize or target kids?" he asked. "Parents don't want their kids labeled. …

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