July 24, 2012

Let's Talk about Mental Illness and the Sickening Limits of Parental Responsibility

The tragic shooting rampage in Aurora is on everyone's mind. We all wonder how this could happen, how could a supposedly bright college student cross over into madness?

How could vendors sell 6,000 rounds of ammunition - over the Internet, no questions asked? Who needs that much ammo?

Every time a tragic event like this happens, I personally feel sick and afraid - afraid that I'll be the parent of a shooter someday.

No, The Boy is not threatening to do such a heinous act.

Not now, anyway. And rest assured that he'll NEVER have access to a gun while residing here.

The comment I found to be most disturbing in all of the news coverage was the suspect's mother's initial statement to a television reporter:

"You have the right person."

When I heard that, I felt it viscerally. To me, it said that the mother knew that her son was disturbed enough to carry out this violent act.

Now that the family has lawyered up, the spin on the comment is that Ms. Holmes was verifying that she was, in fact, the Ms. Holmes whose son was arrested for his alleged crimes.

I'm still sticking by my initial reaction. As a mother of a mentally ill son, I am well aware that each outburst has the potential to spiral out of control, and end in violent behavior.

Since The Boy is still a minor (at least for the next 358 days), I can make sure that he takes his medication and attends his therapy sessions.

But next year? All bets are off. In the eyes of the law, he will be an adult - and I won't be able to "make" him do anything. I will not be able to compel him to stay in treatment and to take his medication unless he's so out of touch with reality that a judge would grant me guardianship over his health care, and sign an order of civil involuntary commitment to a treatment facility. But this only ensures 72 hours of treatment - there's no guarantee of follow-up care after release.

Not all states operate the same way; in some states, the adult must only present a danger to himself or others to be involuntarily committed.

The fear that The Boy will be in control of his own health (while he is out of control) is scary to me.

Family members, physicians, educators and others who notice a change in the behavior of a young person need to speak up. Perhaps intervention could take place, and get the young person back on the road to stability.

From the NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) web site:

The Surgeon General has acknowledged that the risk of violence among individuals with mental illness increases to some degree in the case of substance abuse or psychosis, a symptom which typically involves a “break with reality” through paranoia, hallucinations or delusions. Social withdrawal may precede such breaks. Early warning signs of psychosis, particularly in the year leading up to the break, may include:
  • Worrisome drop in academic or job performance
  • New trouble thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suspiciousness or uneasiness with others
  • Decline in self-care or personal hygiene
  • Spending a lot more time alone than usual
  • Increased sensitivity to sights or sounds
  • Mistaking noises for voices
  • Unusual or overly intense new ideas
  • Strange new feelings or having no feelings at all
Young adults in their 20s are the most common age group to experience the first onset of psychosis. This is a stage of life that usually challenges young people to develop more independence, establish an identity, create intimate relationships and move away from home. Immediate family members, who usually are most aware of changes in behavior of a loved one, play a less central role at this time, particularly if a person has moved to another city or state, such as to attend college or graduate school.

I'd like to see a national standard regarding involuntary commitment, as well as a more consistency and higher quality of care in our mental health system that allows the patient some rights while still protecting the public at large.

I'd like to see a nationwide registry for adults who have exhibited violent or disturbing behavior - let's prevent them from purchasing guns and ammunition. Let psychiatrists determine which patients should be excluded from such purchases, and compel store owners to run a check on potential customers (like they do a NCIC check on handgun purchases).

Sure, I know that the ACLU would be all over my ass about such a registry, what with infringing on the rights of individuals and all...too bad the rights of the individual moviegoers weren't protected last week.


  1. Typical teenage rebellion and angst is hell, I can't begin to imagine the helplessness you must feel at times. My heart goes out to you.

  2. Thank you so much for that information. I am still trying to wrap my brain around the whole shooting thing.

  3. Amen to all that you said. I'm sure hearing that mother's quote was like a punch in the gut for so many other moms.


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