Is Mental Health Care to Blame for School Shootings? Part 2
Mental Health and its Care
Kristen Brown is the mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. She says, “Still reeling from having Asperger’s removed from the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), we are shocked as a community to see such a horrific event so readily attributed to a disorder they just declared doesn’t exist. We are here to tell the world, Asperger’s does exist, and we are not violent. We are artistic, charitable, empathetic, and compassionate.
My son, Kaleb is 10 years old with Asperger’s syndrome and is a published author with his own website, www.TheBigM,net and is growing his hair out to
donate to Locks of Love. (A charity which provide wigs for kids with cancer.) I am 42 years old with Asperger’s syndrome. I am also a survivor of child
abuse and many other atrocities, which I detail in raw fashion in my book, What Didn’t Kill Me, which can also be found on Kaleb’s site. My book pretty much proves that even with severe mental disorder such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, Asperger’s, and severe anxiety disorder, combined with a poor
up-bringing does not a killer make. We as a society are tired of the excuses and would like to be heard on the matter.”
Harvard Psychologist Dr. Holly Parker says, “In the wake of a tragedy like this, it is certainly understandable to seek answers as to why it happened in an attempt to prevent it from happening again. There are often many factors that play a role in what occurred, and in an effort to find understand what happened and prevent it, people can find it hard to know what the cause was for such a senseless horror.
“One of the challenges is that because a mass shooting is such a low probability event (meaning that it is extremely rare) it is very, very hard to predict. Yes, the shooter was diagnosed with Asperger’s, but if we look to Asperger’s, or the mental healthcare system, or psychotropic medications as the cause of what happened, I think we’re barking up the wrong tree. True–other shooters have been withdrawing from drugs or have had mental health diagnoses. However, mental health issues are statistically more likely to make people victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. We also need to remember that there are many, many people in this country who have a mental health condition and/or are withdrawing from psychiatric medications. They are among our colleagues, our friends, our neighbors, our family members and loved ones. Yet, out of all of those people, a minuscule number of people in the history of this country have committed a mass murder.
“It’s not to say that this individual didn’t have problems–clearly he did. But given that mass violence is such a rare phenomenon, and that most people taking psychiatric medications and carrying a mental health diagnosis are not committing mass violence, these factors cannot themselves account for what occurred.
“Arguably, we are always going to have a very small percentage of the population prone to mass violence, and it will be incredibly difficult to identify these individuals and (even if we could identify them all) predict who will eventually commit such violence. So, perhaps it makes sense to think about the means available to end people’s lives. There will certainly be people who disagree with me on this, in my opinion, as long as guns and assault weapons are available, we are likely going to see mass murders continue.
Randye Kaye, author of Ben Behind his Voices, says, “As the mother of someone with mental illness, I know how hard we’ve had to kick and scream for services. Nancy Lanza, I imagine, was left to handle her son alone once he aged out of childhood services.The facts of the Lanza family are still unclear, but one thing is crystal clear: We simply cannot afford to let those with mental illness and other mental challenges – and their families – fend for themselves without treatment and services.
“My son, Ben, is thriving. But it took (and takes) so much hunting for help, insisting upon treatment, fighting for care, and supervision – after years
of chaos and confusion – that our family would not have survived emotionally or financially if we hadn’t finally found some support and education (for us, through NAMI). Many families are not so lucky, or simply do not have the time or resources to even reach out for help. They are too busy working two jobs to pay for healthcare (not Nancy Lanza, as she clearly had money) and/or desperately trying to keep their loved ones engaged in the real world without the training or resources to do so.”
Marshall Barnes served as an armed intruder incident consultant for the Riser Military Academy, conducted an independent study of the issues surrounding violent video games and cartoons, has an extensive background in the area of consciousness studies and research in altered states of consciousness from psychoactive drugs, mental illness, non-drug and technological means, and was involved in some of the legal discussions concerning a civil prosecution of the I-270 sniper case in Columbus, OH. He says, “You have a direct correlation between mental illness and these mass murders. Not a causal relationship, but one that says it’s far more likely that a person who is mentally disturbed is going to do those kinds of things, than anyone else. Thus, the scientific issue becomes, what causes mentally disturbed people, in these rare cases, to take on these behaviors and what can be done to stop it.
“Within the context of the facts, overall, it is clear that it is the mental health system, and those associated with it, that is to blame, first. Included in that would be the types of drugs administered, whether they are administered properly and whether or not the drugs are even appropriate. Also, the care givers and or parents next and then the entertainment media, because I have documented the dramatic rise in anti-social violence in video games which no one has addressed properly, and I mean no one, because the people who have been most critical have been critical of violence in a blanket fashion which reveals that they just don’t like violence or aggression, or the ability to even defend oneself. And this is documented, not a personal opinion of mine. I could prove it in a court of law. So, I’m talking about very specific elements here that have been completely ignored in this debate. For example, how can you declare a school a weapons free zone, have a zero tolerance policy on weapons to the point that you suspend a straight A student for having a squirt gun in the back of his locked and parked car, and yet you have a working wood shop in the school, filled with the same kind of tools that have been listed as murder weapons in cases in police files all over the world and be taken as credible? It’s a lot easier to kill someone with a hammer, or even a pair of scissors, and in fact both of those items have been listed as weapons in cases of assault and homicide, while I don’t think a squirt gun has been listed as an assault weapon more than perhaps 1% of the time, and murder even less than that, if at all. I’m only not saying zero, because I know how someone could kill with a squirt gun, but it would involve a special solution of some kind, inside the toy, which most people just aren’t going to bother with, but a professional assassin might. So, somewhere, at some time, a squirt gun could have been used to kill someone, but I know for a fact that a pair of scissors has been used far more times than that, and yet these same people who have punished school children for having a butter knife, or worse, for posing with a cannon as part of a senior yearbook picture, will say nothing of that. The issue for me isn’t whether a school is a weapons free zone or not. In reality, no school is because it’s impossible, and anyone saying otherwise is clueless. The issue is that by the ways that this faux policy is enforced, it reveals that the actual policy is against the idea of tools that are designed as weapons, whether they are real, or merely images. These are the same types of people who are also against guns when in the United States, actual gun crime is down and I grew up at a time when none of these mass killings were happening and yet there were plenty of guns. So the science, the data shows that the correlation is not between gun ownership and these killings, but with the increase of people who have one or more mental health issues and have a background of engaging in the use of media that promotes anti-social behavior, thoughts and ideas.
“What we do is address the failures of the mental health system first and everything connected to that, because it is the so-called mental health consumers that are involved in the heinous crimes. Its not the normal gun owner and not even the common criminal, although there is too much gun crime that happens everyday. But that is a completely separate issue. Also, people have to be aware of the inordinate amount of anti-social violence in video games. The reason why I say anti-social violence is because it is completely different to play a war game where you’re fighting the Nazis in WWII, and playing a game that places you in the role of a murderer, as many games do. Fighting an enemy that wants to enslave the world, is a noble cause. Acting out the strangulation murder of an innocent victim, is not. In addition, the amount of sexual titillation in some of these games is ridiculous. If the parent or guardian of a child, with mental health issues, isn’t keeping track of what kinds of games and things that the child is participating in, it’s irresponsible. Video games produce altered states of consciousness which are usually mild, but for long, unsupervised periods, they can have a very strong effect of immersing the player into an altered state where the game becomes reality for the time that it’s being played. Later, the game can appear in dreams as it has become engrained into the memory. In fact, just as music can be triggered by outside stimuli to replay in our minds, video game scenarios can do the same thing. In a mind that is being treated with psychoactive drugs or has other mental health issues, this can have effects that have been ignored but could be potentially dangerous. Recently, people have even died from playing video games for so long.
“Having worked with the device which is now called, Mind Storm http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/healthteam/story/5375988/ , which is a schizophrenia simulator and developed through a collaboration with psychiatrists and patients, I know that outside stimuli can trigger game play playback in the mind. So if you have a person who suffers from a condition where reality can be overridden by episodes occurring in the mind, that’s a problem. If those episodes are of extreme, anti-social violence, that’s a real problem because at some point, those episodes may be lived out, whether driven by external pressures, internal anxieties, of simply delusional fantasies that satisfy some desire.
“So what we do is look at these anti-social video games. I have yet to hear anyone ask a game manufacturer why they program a game so that the user is the bad guy. Never. Not once. I would like to know why, because it has absolutely nothing to do with making the game better or easier to play. It does have everything to do with programming an unconscious acceptance of anti-social violence, which in the case of some people, can least defend against it. They are a minority, to be sure, but the damage they cause is catastrophic to the victims, their families and society as a whole. But even beyond that, the acceptance of anti-social violence, which is on the rise, is also an issue because then the larger number of people exposed to it, the larger number of people that shouldn’t be exposed to it will be included. They might not become mass murderers, but under the right conditions, they will be less inclined to refrain from committing, violent anti-social acts.”
Carole Lieberman M.D., known as America’s Psychiatrist, says, “Mental health care is partly at fault in the Sandy Hook shootings, as follows: Clearly Adam Lanza is mentally ill. His brother, Ryan, has said that Adam had a form of autism, which has been described elsewhere as Asperger’s Syndrome, part of the autism spectrum. Ryan also said that Adam had a personality disorder. There are many different types of personality disorder – including antisocial personality, paranoid and schizotypal or schizoid. It is preferable to think of autism spectrum disorders as developmental disorders, rather than mental illness, because of the stigma attached. Most people with autism or Asperger’s do not become mass murderers. However, Adam was obsessed with violent video games, which may well have exacerbated any underlying conditions. Also, Adam may have been beginning to experience the onset
of schizophrenia, with command hallucinations or delusions that told him to shoot up the school.
“There does need to be better access to mental health treatment. Insurance companies and Obamacare are making it so that too many psychiatrists can only afford to do medication visits, instead of providing the needed psychotherapy to go along with the medication. Meds alone are band-aids and don’t prevent acting out between monthly med visits. (I refuse to do med visits, and only treat patients who come for weekly psychotherapy, along with any meds they might need.) Adam needed intensive psychotherapy (at least weekly) along with medication – both provided by a psychiatrist. His mother seems to have been in denial of this. Reports say she brought him to shooting ranges, when she should have been bringing him to sessions with a psychiatrist. And she could have well afforded it. The recent shootings, and the incomplete information as to Adam’s psychiatric diagnoses, are increasing stigma
about mental illness. The public needs to be better educated about mental illness and treatment.”
Dr. Jeffrey L. Reynolds, Executive Director L.I. Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence (LICADD) says, “It shouldn’t be easier to get a gun than it is to get mental health services. The levels of untreated mental health issues among young people are steadily rising, yet funding for community-based mental health services has been steadily reduced, especially at a local level where tough economic times have put these programs at risk. On Long Island, several youth-serving nonprofits have closed and most have been forced to cut programs, lay-off counselors and implement waiting lists. Without adequate care, those with mental health disorders often wind up self-medicating with illicit drugs and alcohol, thereby compounding the potential risk to themselves, their families and the community at large. In the wake of the Connecticut shootings, we need to have a national conversation about gun control , but we also need to have a conversation about mental health and the need to provide treatment on demand to those who need it.”
Becky Henry, of Hope Network, LLC is the author of Just Tell Her to Stop: Family Stories of Eating Disorders. She says, “It is time to start treating brain illnesses the way we treat illnesses in other parts of the body. With sound research, we need to stop having stigma against mental illness so we can find answers and provide evidence based treatments for all who need help. As an advocate in the eating disorders field I see the families and a handful of researchers trying to find answers to this most deadly of all mental illnesses but the research funding is pathetic and access to evidence based treatments is out of reach for far too many people.”
That emphasis on “evidence based” treatments is due to too much of what is available as mental health care being unproven. That is an issue that will be explored more in part 4 of this series, What do we do?
Bonnie Harris is the director of Connective Parenting. Her website is www.bonnieharris.com. She says, “I have been a mental health provider and parenting specialist for the past 25 years. I do not believe that mental health issues are the cause of these shootings unless severe mental illness is found to be present. I am finding that autism and aspergers are being blamed and anyone experiencing these diagnoses must be outraged. Whatever triggers the killers mind has way more complicated roots than a non-mental illness diagnoses. Autism is not a mental disorder.
“While I believe strongly that we as a nation need to confront our denial of mental illness and find ways to help the victims of mental illness and their families, and while I hope this tragedy brings that conversation to a resolution, finally—and while I believe that assault weapons have no place in any layperson’s hands, I have a bigger and more complex bone to pick. It is too easy to lay blame on a symptom, whichever symptom that is of a suffering society—a diagnosis, a medication, the gun, the health system. If we are to lay blame it must be on our culture of punishment.
“We raise children from their early innocent years with blame, criticism, and the use of manipulative coercive techniques (removing privileges, time out, grounding, threatening) to get them to do our bidding, to make our lives more convenient, to heal our wounds with compliance, which we then use to validate ourselves. We are the culture of the walking wounded, and my question is, When are we going to look at the way our parenting culture tells us to raise our children, express our shock and outrage, and insist that we stop doing the same old, same old that has gotten us to this point of tragedy after tragedy? And I’m not talking about only the school shootings. I’m talking about the tragedies that fill most American homes every morning when frustrated, tired parents react punitively, the only way they know how, when their children dawdle, and don’t make getting out the door easy; that greet our children each day when they don’t do their chores or their homework; that create beliefs in our children that they aren’t good enough for us. When are we going to see that our blame and criticism of our children not only do nothing to teach appropriate behavior and responsibility but also create bullies who play out their feelings of powerlessness in schools, who learn how to get what they want by witnessing our anger and violent attacks on them even in the form of yelling, grabbing, shoving, and name calling.
“I am not in any way blaming parents. I have nothing but compassion and understanding for parents who bring up their children according to the way they believe a good parent should, yet remain frustrated, angry and guilty. I want us to raise our heads from the sand and see that our culture of punishment needs to change to a culture of compassion—for ourselves and the way we were brought up and for our children who are doing nothing more than trying to get what they want. When we attack what they are asking for in their immature manner, what they want goes deeper to a need they have no way of expressing. It is the parent’s job to see and understand those needs. It is a hard job, it often feels impossible, the hardest anyone of us will ever have. But that is because the help isn’t there. That is because our culture has a stigma about parenting. We are supposed to know how to do it. We are too embarrassed to ask for help in an area that we feel too ashamed to talk about. The job of parenting deserves all the help and education our society can offer. Parents are floundering and children are still losing. Is there anything more important?
I have provoked an incredible response to my statement about the I am Adam Lanza’s Mother blog that was posted on the Huffington Post and went viral. My facebook page link is below if you care to check out all the comments. It started out with my update that said, Does anyone else share my outrage at the parenting of the mother in I am Adam Lanza’s Mother? I do not deny the frustration and exhaustion of managing a child with mental illness. I am the first to desire reform managing and treating mental illness. But let’s not forget about emotional illness. That comes from what we believe about ourselves, how hopeful or distraught life seems, how secure or insecure we feel. That comes from how we are parented. It resulted in both support and outrage at my statement!
“Many wanted to know what my outrage was about as people only saw the plight of this poor mother. I responded with: My outrage is not at this mother or this child for whom I have nothing but compassion. My outrage is that we as a culture continue to ignore the importance of parenting and continue to pass judgment on our children for being wrong, for being bad and so we rationalize our system of punishment, of threats, of blame, of scaring our children in to behaving the way we want them to. My outrage is at the lack of attention we pay to the often impossible job of parents who try to cover the roles of all the extended family who used to parent our children. My outrage is that we don’t read this story and see how this mother needs help in learning how to communicate compassionately with such a volatile and vulnerable child—and that she doesn’t have an enormous amount of help in doing it. My outrage is that our parenting culture leaves her to hang on by her fingernails so that she is often at the breaking point. And so that her breaking point leaves her child feeling lost and alone.
Silvia M. Dutchevici, is President and Founder of Critical Therapy Center. She says, “I have been a psychotherapist working with trauma victims for years. The recent shooting in Connecticut has generated conversations regarding mental health and gun control. The hope is that this tragedy can offer
us an opportunity to talk about difficult topics and remember that the answers are not simple. Reports state that Adam Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and that other shooters suffered from mental illnesses as well. As a psychotherapist, I would caution against correlating mental illness with violence, as the connection is not apparent or simple. Worse, connecting metal illness with violence further stigmatizes mental illness, and discourages people who need services from acquiring them.
“Yet, we do need to talk about mental health services and how this shooting is but a small example of the need for more affordable and comprehensive mental health services. The gatekeepers – insurance companies — are often more eager to cover medication than talk therapy, however we know that medication alone does not work. Worse, in some cases insurance companies decide to terminate payment for treatment based on the amount of session or time, rather than the patient’s well being. In simple terms, if one breaks an arm, the insurance company will continue to cover the treatment, yet if one suffers from depression, the insurance companies can decide to stop payment if they feel the patient is not improving. For others, who lack health
insurance there are very few options if they need mental health services but cannot pay for them.
“Lastly, we as a nation need to be mindful that the personal will always be political, meaning this tragedy and Mr. Lanza is a product of our times. We live in a war culture that promotes violence and competition. Through movies, video games, narratives of war and destruction, our access to weapons, our ideology reflects a discourse of aggression. “Whether we publicly talk about hunting terrorists, or claim that we strongly believe in the competition of the market and we promote discourses of domination and subjugation. In this world view, one is either attacked or attacks. Although we do not know or understand Mr. Lanza’s motives for the shooting, we can see how he is a product of a society that reveres the strong and punishes the weak.”