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The PJ Tatler

by
Helen Smith

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July 21, 2012 - 5:21 am

We don’t know yet if the Colorado shooter is mentally ill, but the odds are good that he is.  His own mother wasn’t surprised when she was contacted about the shooting.  Clayton Craymer, author of the new book My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill, pointed out the article stating that  the shooter’s own mother wasn’t surprised at what happened:

San Diego woman identifying herself as James Holmes’s mother spoke briefly with ABC News this morning.
She had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.
“You have the right person,” she said.
“I need to call the police,” she added. “I need to fly out to Colorado.”

James Holmes dropped out of school recently — I wonder why. Was he having trouble or was he forced out? What kinds of symptoms was he having that led his mother not to be surprised that her son was involved? What have his parents dealt with that would lead his mother not to be surprised that her son would do this?

What gets me is that when something like this happens, people think that the parents are responsible and they tend to blame them. It’s easier than realizing the complexity of what is actually happening in this country as well as others. The mentally ill get little treatment, parents have nowhere to turn, and as a result, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, “there are approximately 1,000 homicides – among the estimated 20,000 total homicides in the U.S. – committed each year by people with untreated schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.” Was James Holmes one of theses statistics? We don’t know for sure, but it is likely that he was mentally unstable.

In the course of my career, I have had many desperate parents call me, especially for their adult mentally ill children. They have nowhere to turn and few resources. Their child is often sick, angry, broken, and needs treatment but doesn’t get it. Or does get some, but stops taking the meds and is rarely monitored. The law doesn’t allow them much leeway in these cases and basically says that until someone commits a crime, they won’t do anything. No one really understands this system unless you live it with someone everyday or work in it and realize how hard it is to get help for the mentally ill. There are few mental hospitals open and private practitioners rarely want to take on someone like this. Community mental health centers are hit or miss, depending on their staff and resources.

If our society continues to ignore the issue of the mentally ill, then more of these tragedies will happen with no solution in sight.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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