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GSSW's Sudders on Gun Violence Panel

03/14/13

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Mar. 13, 2013

Graduate School of Social Work Associate Professor Marylou Sudders has been appointed by Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo to a special advisory panel that will study and recommend possible legislative solutions to address gun violence.

The panel, which is comprised of legislators and experts in mental health, law enforcement and other related areas, is chaired by Northeastern University Associate Dean Jack McDevitt. Other members include Natick Police Chief James Hicks, Massachusetts General Hospital Associate Chief of Psychiatry John Herman, Revere Public Schools Superintendent Paul Dakin and attorney Raffi Yessayan, former chief of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Gang Unit.

Sudders, a former Massachusetts Commissioner of Mental Health, chairs the GSSW Health and Mental Health Concentration and focuses her teaching and research on mental health policy, children's mental health, mental health planning, and child abuse and neglect.  

“I appreciate that, with the creation of this panel, we are trying to have a thoughtful conversation about guns and mental illness, instead of reacting viscerally to events,” said Sudders. “I am honored to play any part I can in aiding this dialogue.”

A frequent media commentator in the wake of the Dec. 14 Newtown, Ct., shootings, Sudders said reaction to the tragedy suggests a willingness on the part of Americans to address the problems of mental illness, instead of focusing debate solely on gun control. But the conversation needs to be an informed one for it to be effective and lead to meaningful changes, she warned.

“Unfortunately, we tend to talk about mental illness as a result of tragedy, rather than to get together and look at the issue more fully,” Sudders said. “The fact is, individuals with mental health problems are more likely to be victims, not perpetrators, of violence. I would hope we bear facts like those in mind as we look for solutions.”

Instead of looking at mental illness as the default explanation for events such as Newtown, Sudders said examining patterns of risky or anti-social behaviors — such as drunk driving or instances of extreme rage — offers as much, if not more, of an insight into why mass shootings happen.

“There has been an ongoing struggle for many years to de-stigmatize mental illness, and to have mental health viewed as an integral part of our health care,” said Sudders. “Our goal should be to ensure that people get the mental health services they need, not to stigmatize mental illness all over again, and undo all the progress that’s been made.” 

Sudders, in addition to serving as the Massachusetts Commissioner of Mental Health for seven years, was president and CEO of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a private non-profit advocating for the rights and well-being of children and their families.

Last fall, Sudders was appointed to the Massachusetts Health Commission Board, which will monitor the reform of Massachusetts’ health care delivery in an effort to reduce costs and improve quality. In 1999, she was invited to the first White House Conference on Mental Health and in 2002 she testified before Congress on the issue of criminal justice and mental illness.