In wake of Florida shooting, mental health experts draw attention to importance of “warning signs”

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - As many ask what more could have been done to prevent the killing of 17 people at a Florida high school, mental health experts are drawing attention to the importance of the warning signs that someone may be planning to hurt people.

Anita Thomas, the University of Indianapolis’ Dean of Applied Behavioral Sciences says often times people think back after an incident and remember that there were clear warning signs. However, those signs so often aren’t put together until it’s after the fact.

Early on, Thomas says it’s important to pay attention to patterns in behavior, like frequent social media posts that have overtly violent themes, and how the person behaves in social settings.

 “When you combine it with a sense of disconnection, social isolation, or depression and anxiety, I think putting those pieces together as we try to do profiles is really, critically important,” Thomas said.

While there is a line between someone that is simply “off” or “unusual” and someone that is dangerous, Thomas says it’s important to use your gut.

“All of us have instincts, all of us have gut reactions about this person seems off, and I don’t think you have to identify what that “off” is, to be able to say I don’t know if it’s true, not true, I don’t know if it real, or a mental health issue, but they feel off, and I just think you should know that,” she said.

But, if knowing the signs is half the equation the other half is doing something about it

In the case of the Florida shooter, he had already been expelled from the high school, and a teacher reported that staff had been warned not to let him on campus with a backpack, out of fear he would harm other students.

While there is a line between someone that’s “off” or “unusual” and someone that’s dangerous… Thomas says it’s important to use your gut.  But if knowing the signs is half the equation the other half is doing something about it. However, law enforcement officials say often people don’t report their concerns; mainly out of fear of them being unfounded, and of getting someone in trouble.

“We’re not asking anyone to know for sure, the whole idea is that if you see something suspicious, make a report of it,” IMPD Public Information Officer Genae Cook said.

Cook says if the concerns end up being unfounded, then action isn’t taken.  However, she adds that in the end its better to be safe than sorry.

“We want to make sure that everybody is safe, everybody is healthy, make sure that we can help them if they need help,” she said.

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