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‘Unhappiness comes in a lot of forms:’ The psychology of school gun violence, threats

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Steven Dykstra Ph.D., a psychologist with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division

GERMANTOWN -- There was an extra police presence Tuesday at Germantown High School and Kennedy Middle School after authorities investigated a potential gun threat. It seems safety risks like this are happening all too often and are alarming for many.

In recent weeks, at least nine schools have had instances of threats or gun violence, with Oshkosh West High School and Waukesha South High School having school shootings 24 hours apart.

Gunshots fired inside Waukesha South High School

"Our feeling is there are more threats like this than there used to be. They rise and fall," says Steven Dykstra Ph.D., a psychologist with the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.

The situations affect people differently.

"If you witnessed things you are more likely to be deeply affected by it for a longer period of time," says Dykstra. "Other people may be surprisingly unaffected, and we have to be careful to judge people one way or another."

Dykstra says, generally speaking, the subjects behind most school shootings and threats have certain characteristics -- they tend to be disaffected and unhappy.

"Unhappiness comes in a lot of forms," says Dykstra. "We associate it with depression it can also be anxiety, a general feeling that your life is not moving forward."

Guns recovered after Waukesha South HS incident

Oshkosh West High School shooting

But going forward, it's important for everyone to be mindful of each other.

"It's going to involve caring for people. It's going to involve pulling them closer instead of pushing them away," Dykstra says. "We want to help you before something like this happens."

Dykstra believes it's vital that parents communicate with their children.

"There are parents out there not just worried this may happen to their child, but worried that their child is this kid," Dykstra says.

Dykstra says the best way to start that conversation is to ask kids what they think about what happened and genuinely listen, and know that help is out there to deal with these issues.

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