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Panelist warns about incomplete information

Second of two parts on a presentation on the events at Sandy Hook. The first part dealt with observations of a school guidance counselor and pastor. This part deals with the reactions of a psychologist.

To understand the events at Sandy Hook, it's important to remember Columbine.

Bradley R. Beckwith, MS, LPC, considers the massacre at Columbine High School to be "the best example in our national history: what happened and what we've learned from it."

Beckwith, of Whitehall, was part of a panel discussion on Sandy Hook that took place Jan. 10 at St. John's United Church of Christ, Fullerton. He began his portion of the presentation by asking the audience what they knew about Columbine.

The answers given were proof that "initial information is how we form memories," said Beckwith, a licensed professional counselor and doctoral candidate in psychology. He added people are highly emotional and misinformed at the same time. The final Columbine report did not come out until 2005, six years after the tragedy.

"What we have learned," Beckwith said, "is that medication doesn't cause violence; mental health disorders aren't caused by violence."

"Bullying can cause reactive violence, but not the level that we saw at Columbine," he said.

Beckwith, who is employed by Forensic Treatment Services, works with murderers, rapists, people with history of assault, arsonists and ex-convicts trying to reintegrate back into society.

"I work with individuals with a severe pathology that can speak about violence in such a novel manner," he said.

However, not a single person that he works with at his agency is diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, autism, Asperger's syndrome, anxiety or panic attacks, said Beckwith.

"They are very comfortable with who they are; they're what we've called psychopaths or sociopaths," he said.

Beckwith gave the "quick and dirty definition of a psychopath or sociopath" as one with no conscience, no empathy and no respect for any rights of any other human being.

"These people do not have to be violent in nature," Beckwith said. A corporate CEO who cuts 25 million jobs to increase his bottom dollar and shows blatant disregard for the lives he's ruined would possibly qualify.

"These individuals lack the capacity for human emotion," he said.

Most of the major attacks, such as those at Columbine and Virginia Tech, were cases of instrumental violence – which is calculated, premeditated and pathological.

An autistic person who reacts violently because he or she feels threatened is not capable of executing 20 children.

"It takes a certain person to do that," he said.

If somebody is capable of instrumental violence, it is in no way related to an active mental health disorder, Beckwith said.

"In fact, their mental health disorder will probably make it more difficult for them to do something this violent," he said.

Beckwith said mental health services in schools probably won't work with sociopaths. When a scientific test is given to a person who is depressed, suffers from anxiety or is schizophrenic, the diagnosis would be extremely accurate. Elevations in emotions will tell exactly what's going on.

"A true psychopath or sociopath [essentially the same] will have a straight, flat line; we have no way of determining," he said. "The truth of the matter is that they have no anxiety about what they are doing; they don't care that they are hurting somebody else."

Beckwith said about one in every 1,000 persons in the world has a psychopathic characteristic.

"Most of these people are not violent in nature," he said. "Most are fairly intelligent and get their passive-aggressive digs in verbally through insults. Only one in millions are capable of the kind of violence that took place at Sandy Hook."

"What is important to understand is that everybody in this room knows somebody who has had a problem with depression, anxiety, stress, alcohol or drugs," Beckwith said. "That does not necessarily make them capable of that [category of violence] ... It is not [caused by] the mental health disorder."

Constant unsupervised exposure to depraved activities such as violent video games reinforces and escalates existing violent behaviors, Beckwith said.

Unfortunately, helpful programs such as art and music are often the victims of budget cuts.

He said a movie developed by psychologists, "We Need to Talk About Brian," illustrates problem characteristics that parents should be aware of.

One of the things he has learned about parents through studying psychology is that the concept of "asking annoying questions" gets lost on some families. Through basic parenting work, he urges parents to ask children where they are going and who they will be with, etc.

While home schooling has skyrocketed, Beckwith says it is not the answer.

"All in all, overwhelming statistics show that between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m., the safest place on the planet that your kid can be is in school."