In the wake of tragedy: Mental illness debated after Sandy Hook school shooting
While the impulse of the moment is to run toward gun control, mental health needs to be the main focus, National Review's Richard Lowry cautioned. Common gun control solutions include banning assault weapons or prohibiting high-capacity magazines, but the Connecticut shooter could have used a semi-automatic weapon and reloaded like the Virginia Tech and Columbine killers did, Lowry wrote.
"It doesn't make for high political drama or emotional cable chatter, but getting treatment for more of the most seriously mentally ill might actually prevent future shootings," Lowry wrote. "Even if it doesn't, it would improve the lives of sick and vulnerable people.
"We may never know what the dynamic was in the Lanza home," Lowry continued. "For too many parents of the mentally ill, though, it goes something like this: their child becomes withdrawn, delusional and erratic. If they call the mental health system, they are told to bring the child in for an appointment and the sick child won't go. If the parents call the cops, the cops show up and say the child doesn't appear to represent a threat to himself or others and they leave. If they take him to the hospital, he is quickly released back to the parents even if he is admitted. The choice might become living with a deteriorating child increasingly out of his mind or forcing him out of the home and into the streets. Yes, this is 21st century America. Where we have better means to treat mental illness than ever before, but choose to let the insane people decide to get it or not."
The concerns mentioned by Lowry echo those discussed by mother and writer Liza Long in a blog post about her mentally ill son "Michael" that went viral after the shooting.
"When I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. 'If he's back in the system, they'll create a paper trail,' he said. 'That's the only way you're ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you've got charges,'" Long wrote.
It seems the U.S. is using prison as the solution of choicer for mentally ill people, Long said, and society's stigma on mental illness and "its broken healthcare system," does not provide other options.
Increasing the focus on dealing with mental illnesses may be a challenging prospect, however, as the issue runs up against social stigmas, discrimination, treatment options, civil liberties and errors in judgment.
Dr. Nassir Ghaemi, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center, wrote about the shooting in The Boston Globe, stating that it was not a lack of knowledge which could have prevented the tragedy, but rather an inability to implement what was known.
"When will we finally put aside all the discrimination against mental illnesses, which reaches the point of denying their existence, and admit what any civilized, educated society would do: these are real illnesses, often characterize by the refusal of those who have them to accept treatment," Ghaemi wrote. "Sometimes, society has rights which overrule extreme individual civil liberties. Besides strict gun laws, we need more laws allowing for outpatient commitment to treatment for severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder."
"This country needs to develop a better understanding of the complexities of various conditions and respect for the profound individuality of its children," Priscilla Gilman wrote in The New York Times. "We need to emphasize that being introverted doesn't mean one has a developmental disorder, that a developmental disorder is not the same thing as a mental illness, and that most mental illnesses do not increase a person's tendency toward outward-directed violence."
Jeffery Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University and an expert in the epidemiology of violence, told The New York Times that it is not possible to reliably predict violence, and that psychiatrists, using clinical judgment, are not much better than chance at predicting which patients will do something violent and which will not.
"You can profile the perpetrators after (a mass shooting) and you'll get a description of troubled young men, which also matches the description of thousands of other troubled young men who would never do something like this," Swanson said.
Indeed, a Wall Street Journal article reported that while in high school, Lanza had attracted the attention of Newtown High School staff members, was being monitored by teachers, counselors and security officers, and had been assigned a school psychologist.
"At that point in his life, he posed no threat to anyone else," Richard J. Novia, the director of the security at Newtown School District in 2007. "We were worried about him being the victim or that he could hurt himself."
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