Mental health and predicting violence in wake of shooting
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 7, 2013 16:01
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting, a multitude of citizens have come forward with demands for socio-political change.
Some contend that the mental health system in place needs to be reevaluated, while others argue that gun control in America needs to be stricter.
On Dec. 14, 20 children and six adults were killed by Adam Lanza. Lanza invaded the Sandy Hook Elementary School with an assault rifle after shooting his mother, Nancy, at her Newtown home, for a total of 27 deaths.
It is speculated, but not yet proven, that Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mental disorder falling under Autism. Those with this syndrome are typically intelligent but socially awkward.
It usually doesn’t include such deadly and violent tendencies, especially at the level of violence displayed by Lanza, said Robin Zagurski, University of Nebraska Medical Center child and adolescent therapist.
This shooting is the most deadly in 2012, and the second deadliest after the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 30 in 2007.
Zagurski couldn’t confirm the shooting as a “violent outburst” but said it’s a much more serious incident and very rare among those with Asperger’s Syndrome, as well as those with other mental disorders.
“People with mental health problems are only typically 2 percent more violent than the general population,” Zagurski said.
Zagurski said there isn’t a lot of data on the type of person who does this type of shooting because it’s such a rare occurrence.
However, she said that there are pre-indicators that can be identified before this type of deadly outburst, and these are what should be focused on by mental health officials.
As far as the battle that has arisen between an evaluation of the mental health care system and gun control laws, Zagurski believes that one does not take precedence over the other.
“All these threads need to be untangled,” Zagurski said. “I don’t think one is more important than the other. Both of these avenues need to be explored.”
The direction of legal changes has been driven by a series of gun-related tragedies occurring in 2012 - six were killed at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin and 12 were killed at an Aurora, Colo. movie theater.
Many think that gun control, especially on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, should be revised in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
However, die-hard defenders of the Second Amendment believe the important matter to address is specific to the current systems for mental health treatment.
The way violent mental health patients are treated depends entirely on the person, Zagurski said. For the most violent mentally-disturbed, those considered “psychotic,” Zagurski said prison and/or medication is typically the method of treatment for these particular individuals.
“However, there’s a wide range of what violence could be considered as, and looking at violence literature could be very confusing for folks,” Zagurski said. “The statistics may seem high, but they do not typically indicate the severity of the mental health disorder, which is equally as important as the diagnosis itself.”
Every state’s mental health system is different, Zagurski said. “Nebraska’s lost a lot of funding for mental health issues, so we can’t limit insurance to it.”
The way to access a mental health provider is to call and make an appointment, Zagurski said.
Only a few insurance companies have specific doctors and most are funded through insurance, but some self-pay for mental health treatment, and others depend on a sliding-fee scale based on income, Zagurski said.
Zagurski is steadfast in her belief that those who think they may have a mental disorder should not be afraid of getting treatment. She warns the public that it should “not paint [all who have some type of mental disorder] with the same brush.”
“There shouldn’t be a stigma in getting help,” Zagurski said. “You are not your diagnosis. You are a human being.”