Why it’s a problem: Although it’s not exactly a secret that threat assessment programs often conflate suicidal risk with risk for harming others (see my post here), this article refers to suicide risk assessment and threat assessment tools almost interchangeably, as if they both can prevent the same type of outcome. But it makes no sense to talk about suicide intervention for the Michigan student who committed a mass shooting at his high school in 2021, when the fact is that the person clearly telegraphed his intentions to hurt other people. The person didn’t need to be in counseling for people to know that he was a danger to others. Although some mass shooters do indeed have suicidal ideation, it’s a distraction to talk about suicide prevention (or mental health care) in these cases, because when people make threats about harming others, that needs to involve an immediate intervention that is categorically different for people in crisis. As I’ve noted before, psychiatric care and psychological counseling can’t be expected to prevent people from committing violence. And because threat assessment programs conflate all types of behaviors under the umbrella of “suspicious,” including neurodivergence, mental illness, political dissent, and existing while racially minoritized, mountain loads of data accumulate, making it harder to identify the real threats. As reported in this New York Times article, Maine law enforcement received numerous tips and alerts about Card’s threats, but because “they receive many,” the gunman slipped through the cracks.

Efforts to destigmatize suicide, which are important if we want to encourage people to reach out for help, are simply not compatible with fear-based frameworks or interventions that continue to criminalize it by conflating suicidal people with mass shooters.


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