In America, whether it comes to tackling crime, or the most severe mental illness, there’s a popular sentiment that says the best solution is to “lock ’em up and throw away the keys.” That’s part of the reason this country has a higher incarceration rate than any other. A knee-jerk response to the Newtown massacre is likely to be a push to reduce legal obstacles to involuntary treatment.
Christian Science Monitor reports: Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza may have been motivated by anger at his mother because of plans to have him committed for treatment, Fox News reported Thursday, citing comments from the son of an area church pastor and an unnamed neighborhood source. Fox also cited an unnamed senior law enforcement official saying anger at plans for “his future mental-health treatment” were being investigated as a possible motive.
While the Fox reports are still uncorroborated, other media reports paint a general picture that suggests Ms. Lanza was growing increasingly concerned about the mental health of her son.
These reports are bringing to light a debate over where to set the bar when it comes to forcing an individual into treatment – and whether those caring for people with mental-health issues have enough resources available to head off potential crises before they happen.
On one hand, warning signs are often apparent, so making it easier to commit someone for involuntary treatment could save lives.
The young adult men who end up being violent often “have others in their lives … who are trying desperately to get help before something bad happens. They can see it coming down the pike,” says Liza Gold, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. But caregivers “have run up against these commitment laws that are so restrictive – that come down so far on the side of civil liberties and privacy – that it is almost impossible to contain, hospitalize, treat someone with a chronic and escalating mental illness.”
On the other hand, forced treatment can also be emotionally wrenching for the patient and cause lingering anger, mental-health experts say.
“People who are forcibly treated so often feel traumatized by it,” says Robert Whitaker, author of “Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.” “Women in particular will sometimes talk about it almost like a quasi-rape, because sometimes they are held down and injected,” he says.
“That’s Crazy,” is a documentary that shows forced treatment from the perspective of someone who has been stripped of the right to make choices concerning his own health: