For Dangerous Mentally Ill, Treatment Interventions Are Indicated

The horrific mass murders at a Connecticut elementary school has brought the usual shrieks from gun grabbers, while the unaddressed root problem appears to be a mental health issue not adequately treated. It’s not the first time.

For example, Jared Loughner, a psychologically disturbed young man, had been suspended by the college he attended, apparently to avoid legal responsibility should anything untoward happen, e.g. mass murders like those at Virginia Tech committed by a troubled Korean immigrant (pictured). For details, see What Pima Community College Learned from Seung Hui Cho. The college acted to protect itself from financial liability rather than insist that Loughner (who frightened other students) get the treatment he clearly needed for his schizophrenia.

Instead, Jared Loughner was left to fend for himself and he went on to shoot Representative Gabrielle Giffords, kill six and wound 12 others at a Tucson shopping center in 2011. Perhaps a mental health intervention might have prevented the tragedy.

After the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado, last summer, columnist and psychiatrist Charles Krauthammer observed that while government oversight of guns has increased considerably over the years, society’s treatment of potentially dangerous mentally ill persons has become far more permissive.

Krauthammer: Aurora shooting a reminder that concerns for civil liberties may lead to improper treatment of mentally ill, Daily Caller, July 21, 2012

On Friday’s “Special Report” on the Fox News Channel, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, a board-certified psychiatrist, revisited a discussion from last year around the time Democratic Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by an allegedly insane Jared Loughner: Is society properly handling the mentally ill?

In the wake of yesterday’s mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, Krauthammer suggested journalists and elected officials should focus on that question instead of playing politics with tragedy.

“I’m sure people like to draw application and look to society and all this stuff,” Krauthammer said. “Remember when we had a shooting in Tucson people began to shoot accusation, to level accusations that people in politics, tea party. We even had a false report this morning on ABC of a connection to the tea party which is not only scandalous, but stupid. Why would you even look in that direction? But I think we are now to the extent it will be a political side to this. People will talk about the gun control. The one thing we never speak about is the way that we treat the mentally ill and dangerous people. It seems to me that the numbers you cited, that’s a pretty large number. That’s more than two a year of these since Columbine. I don’t know if records were kept 50 years ago, but that sounds like a lot.”

The Post columnist noted that, although guns have become more regulated, the occurrence of these incidents is on the rise.

“Over time, over the decades, our gun control laws have gotten more tight and more strict. At the same time how we treat the mentally ill has gotten far more lenient and loose,” Krauthammer said. “Now, for good reason — we don’t want to commit people willy-nilly. We believe in civil liberties. But, on the other hand, there’s always a risk. The threshold for committing people to a psychiatric facility on the basis of dangerousness has risen over the decades. I would commit people myself in the ’70s when I was a psychiatrist at a [Massachusetts] general hospital. But since then, the threshold, how difficult it is, has risen, and you end up with people on the street 100 years ago, 50 years ago would now be in institutions. I’m not leveling blame at anybody, but I’m saying as a society, we made a decision, take the risk of tragedy in order to ensure civil liberties, and it’s a difficult, difficult choice.” 

Host Bret Baier asked Krauthammer if there were any signs, based on his expert opinion, that accused Aurora shooter James Holmes was mentally ill.

“Jared [Loughner], the guy in Tucson, was psychotic from the way he spoke,” he said. “This guy seems more organized the way he did the shooting. He had it all organized. There was a lot of thinking, premeditation, armor and the theater of it. I’m not sure he is a raving psychotic. But clearly, if there were no accomplices, and I can’t manual there is political or ideological one this is expression of something unusual. Obviously there is a mental illness here and we’ll determine what is it with further examinations.”