From the CEO
Like so many Americans, APA members were horrified by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. As psychologists, we were saddened to be confronted once again with the negative effects of our nation's fragmented and under-resourced mental health system.
APA took a number of actions immediately following the shooting to lend the expertise of our discipline to a community and a nation reeling with grief. These included providing APA experts to local, national and international media, delivering information about trauma and recovery to the public via the APA website and social media platforms and supporting the Disaster Response Network volunteers in Connecticut who responded to the Newtown community. (See "President's Column".)
But as Newtown and the nation move through shock and grief, we are also grappling with the question of what to do now. How can the next mass shooting be prevented? Our discipline has a critical role to play in answering that question.
I have assembled a central office strategic response team to focus on an issue psychology can uniquely address: the prediction and prevention of violence. This working group, comprising senior staff from APA's four directorates, as well as our publishing, government relations and public communications offices, will work with a small number of APA members with expertise in violence assessment and prevention. The team will plan the association's next steps concerning our communications and advocacy. This work will undoubtedly touch on additional issues including the inadequacy of our current mental health care system with its limited access to treatment and the stigma associated with mental illness, and the need for more mental health professionals, as well as appropriately trained police, justice system officials and other public safety professionals.
While there are limits to the answers we have, psychological science has much to say about predicting and preventing violence. The goal will be to share the best available science with policymakers, the news media, other health professionals, community leaders and the public. That strategy will include four components: outreach to the Obama administration, communications to Congress, including tracking and influencing bills that are proposed in response to the shooting, sharing information with the news media and other public education activities including social media, and keeping APA members informed of these ongoing activities.
News reports are suggesting a link between Adam Lanza's playing violent video games and his murderous rampage. While we may never know what motivated Lanza — it was probably a complex set of factors — APA is in the process (work begun before the Sandy Hook shooting) of reviewing its 2005 policy on violent video games (PDF, 90KB) to consider research published since the policy was adopted.
Myth-busting will be an important component of our communications plan. We will also call for more cross-disciplinary and complex analysis of the antecedents of violent behavior. We will use our well-established federal advocacy program to share information with legislators and call for additional funding for behavioral research.
My hope is that psychology can help the nation turn our heartbreak over Newtown, Aurora, Colo., Tucson, Ariz., and other mass shootings into science-based solutions. APA, with the assistance of our members in their roles as researchers, practitioners, disaster response volunteers, media spokespeople and advisors to public officials and policy groups, is actively engaged in finding those solutions.
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