The recent stabbing of Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds and the death of his son, who stabbed his father before taking his own life, could have been prevented.
According to the New York Daily News, “just a day earlier, Gus Deeds had been evaluated under an emergency custody order for mental health issues.” However, following the evaluation he was turned away because there were not enough beds to accommodate him. They offered to referral to another facility that had the space to take him. The next day he violently attacked and stabbed his father with a knife and then killed himself.
It seems as though Gus Deeds, along with thousands of other individuals, “fell through the cracks” of America’s mental healthcare system.
History has shown us that a number of mass shootings have happened at the hands of mentally ill individuals. The Virginia Tech shooting in 2009 is a tragic example. ABC News reported in 2009 that Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, had been in contact with the University’s mental health care services provider twice by phone and once in person prior to his killing spree.
Classmates and instructors of Cho had noticed and reported his display of strange and often inappropriate behavior. Cho was briefly taken to a psych ward for evaluation when his roommate told the school that he had been talking about killing himself. He was released the next day after denying any real suicidal thoughts and claiming he was just joking around.
Colorado movie massacre suspect, James Holmes, was also known to suffer from mental illness. Holmes had been seeing a psychiatrist affiliated with the University of Colorado prior to his rampage at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in July of 2012. The psychiatrist had warned campus police that Holmes was a public threat. However, Holmes was able to purchase weapons online unchecked by authorities and planned and carried out his attack at the Aurora movie theatre.
Jared Loughner’s erratic behavior was well-documented in the lead up to his assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (R-Ariz.) in 2011. According to news reports, people who knew him were familiar with his behavior, especially at Pima Community College in Arizona, but little was done to help him.
Loughner’s anti-social behavior got him suspended from his school until he could provide a doctor’s note saying he was not a threat to the campus community. But he was never legally required to seek help, and as a result, Loughner never sought treatment. While the school took steps to encourage Loughner to receive the help he needed, there was a breakdown in communication.
As American citizens, our civil rights are protected. It is a rare occasion, like a mass shooting, when the benefits of those rights are questioned.
In a feature in USA Today, Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington said that she hears from families on a regular basis who think their relative is displaying dangerous behavior and needs help. However, there are minimal legal procedures in place to protect the public from someone who has not yet committed a crime. The law allows parents to have their child committed and evaluated prior to their 18th birthday. However once a child reaches legal adulthood, they are protected against any violation of their civil rights not to be forced into treatment.
Should these laws be subject to change based on concern? If there is precedent for a person to be committed, do we force them to forfeit their civil rights? USA Today reports many advocates have supported this radical idea. They have determined that “to rebuild the country’s mental health system, states need to update laws that allow mentally ill patients to be hospitalized against their will.”
Other reports suggest that Americans have become “accustomed” to mass shootings. The recent incident at LAX airport resulted in one death and several injured parties. The shooting wasn’t even able to reach trending topic status on Twitter. LAX shooting generated only 3,200 tweets in the past seven days compared to the 22,000 tweets that Chris Brown drug rehab earned in the same amount of time.
The shooting also managed to evade the front page of many news publications. In comparison, the loss of life is considerably less than the horrifying shooting that took place at Sandy Hook less than one year ago. Joel Silberman, guest blogger for the LA Times, states that citizens and government officials alike are exhausted with the frequency of these mass killings, and feel increasingly desensitized with each incident.
It is difficult to provide answers to a complex and evolving topic like mental healthcare. Time and experience tell us that we should take steps to patching up our mental health system, but the solutions are elusive. So we stand at an impasse and wait with baited breath.