SA psychiatrist: Bullying in itself will not cause someone to commit violent acts

Dr. Steven Pliszka cites other reasons for violent behavior

SAN ANTONIO – The father of the admitted shooter in the Santa Fe school shooting, which claimed the lives of eight students and two teachers, said his son was mistreated at school, or bullied.

Dr. Steven Pliszka, a psychiatrist with UT Health San Antonio, said on Tuesday that bullying by itself does not cause someone to commit violent behaviors, such as what happened in Santa Fe or Parkland, Florida. 

"We certainly want to prevent bullying," Pliszka said. "It has a wide range of negative effects on kids. In kids that don't have severe mental illness, it can lead to withdrawal and depression, but we caution people against thinking it's the single precipitant  of an event like Santa Fe and Parkland."

Pliszka said, from a clinical perspective, people who carry out violent acts tend to fall into two groups: people who are psychotic, meaning those who become paranoid or experience hallucinations, and people with personality disorders.

"Individuals who become very self-centered, very angry and depressed — they're very alienated from everyone around them,"  Pliszka said. "That builds up over a long period of time."

Pliszka believes social media has a tendency to fuel a lot of violent events.

“An emotionally angry person can find validation of their angry views online," Pliszka said. "Other people say, ‘Yeah, you should go out and hurt somebody.’ They can be made angry by people bullying them  online or making negative comments online."

In addition to the prevalence of social media, Pliszka said the mental health system has not grown with the population, and that there are fewer psychiatric hospital beds in the country than there were 50 years ago, adjusted for the population. 

“What I'd like to see is a greater expansion of the mental health system, particularly for adolescents," Pliszka said. "We do need to start exploring how when people go online and make threats appear to be showing  signs of mental illness online, it can trigger some kind of system, so that people can get help. Police can go to the house. Families will be made aware, and it might prevent some of these events." 



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