Drew Barzman, MD, Director of the Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry Service.

Drew Barzman, MD, Director of the Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry Service

Researchers have developed a method that appears to accurately use a student’s own words to assess their risk of violent behavior.

“We wanted to focus on a way to objectively analyze students at risk for getting into physical fights or other forms of violence, and who bring weapons to schools with the intent of harming others or themselves,” says Drew Barzman, MD, Director of the Child and Adolescent Forensic Psychiatry Service. 

The study team interviewed 25 middle- and high-school students who were quiet, withdrawn or isolated, all of which are possible warning signs of school violence.

Scientists transcribed the interviews using manual annotation, a method that extracts information from human language by identifying key words and phrases. This method also has helped identify adolescents at risk of suicide.

The work detected 13 students considered at risk for harming themselves and 11 with an elevated risk of harming others. Detailed findings appeared in July 2016 in Psychiatric Quarterly.  

For the at-risk students, researchers recommended interventions to parents and schools. 

Next, Barzman and colleagues plan to expand their evaluation to hundreds of students. If proven to be beneficial at identifying at-risk students, the testing method could become widely used by schools and clinicians across the country.