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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Potentially Violent

Q. A family member on my husband's side constantly talks about the violence and drug problems that are in our society, carries a loaded gun in her purse, sits on the couch with the gun by her side awaiting her husband's arrival from work, has a very short fuse and has been violent with other family members. I am concerned that she may hurt someone some day. Can you advise me as to whether or not my fears are well founded?

A. I would say that anyone who carries a loaded gun around, has a "very short fuse", and has been violent toward family members is something of a ticking time bomb, to continue your metaphor. Of course, I can't say with any degree of certainty how dangerous this particular family member is, but I do think your fears are well-founded. Probably the most valid predictor we have for future violence is a history of past violent behavior-and with a gun readily available, this sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

Of course, some women feel the need to protect themselves from very real threats. This can occur in the context of spousal abuse, for example. If there is anyone in the family who has a reasonably good relationship with this woman, it might be helpful, in a very tactful and non-accusatory way, to suggest that she get some professional help. But-this type of intervention has its risks, and might best be done in a setting with others around (and hopefully, far away from this woman's purse!).

Another option would be to encourage the woman's husband to raise this with her, but it's not clear to me what sort of relationship this woman has with her husband. In light of all these uncertainties, the safest course might be to discuss the situation with a mental health professional, who can get all the details; or, to contact the National Violence Prevention Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. Having just spoken with them, it sounds like they might be in a good position to advise you.

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June 2001
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