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Malka Berro

Policy Associate

National Council Briefing Addresses Mass Violence in America

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The National Council for Mental Wellbeing held a congressional staff briefing on Wednesday as a part of Hill Day 2019. This briefing covered an analysis of mass violence as a comprehensive response following the recent tragic events in Texas, Ohio, and California, among too many others. The four briefing panelists were all contributors to the National Council’s Medical Director Institute report, Mass Violence in America: Causes, Impacts and Solutions.

Mass violence has increased over the last 10 years, and the vast majority of victims died from gunshot wounds. For the first time, this groundbreaking report examines the reasons, contributing factors, and actionable solutions surrounding mass violence in America through the lens of behavioral health.  According to the report, “people with serious mental illness are responsible for less than 4 percent of all violence and less than one-third of mass violence.”

The expert panel featured:

  • Joe Parks, Medical Director, National Council for Mental Wellbeing
  • The Honorable John Greenlee, Chief District Court Judge, Gaston County, North Carolina Judicial Branch
  • Sara Coffey, DO, Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Oklahoma State University-Center for Health Sciences
  • Frank E. Shelp, M.D., M.P.H. Senior Medical Director, Behavioral Health, Centene Corporation

The panelists discussed the report from their various areas of expertise, providing recommendations for communities to identify and intervene with high-risk groups, as well as recommendations for schools, judicial and law enforcement institutions, and the government. Some recommendations included the following:

  • Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs): Shelp noted the importance of expanding the CCBHC model to improve prevention efforts. This model, which would be expanded through the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act (S. 824/H.R. 1767), requires CCBHCs to provide extensive crisis response care, and its payment model supports the development and operation of threat assessment teams.
  • Implement threat assessment teams: Threat assessment teams work within a business or school to prevent violence through an ongoing assessment and intervention process. The teams are multidisciplinary and can include law enforcement, behavioral health professionals, legal teams, and more. In a study on threat assessment teams in schools, they found that suspension rates decreased, 99% of threats were not carried out, racial disparities were reduced or absent, and counseling was used more often than a punitive response. The authors found an increased lasting positive school climate, which has been shown to increase reports of feeling safe and to reduce aggressive behaviors.
  • Reduce mass violence: No single solution will solve mass violence. A range of both policies and interventions are needed to prevent and reduce incidents of mass violence, and it is integral to engage an array of people from the national to the community level. A standardized, mandatory investigation of each mass violence incident is necessary to understand its causes and predictors, and this database should be led by the Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


As Dr. Parks noted during the briefing, “Hatefulness and anger are not mental illnesses. They are social illnesses… if we focus just on mental illness, we will miss the majority of the causes of mass violence.” If we want to bring attention to mental illness, bring attention to the widespread lack of access and quality treatment for mental illness and addiction in the United States and urge your legislator to support one of the panel’s recommendations, CCBHCs.