Everyone Has an Opinion: Tracking the Responses to this Latest Mass Shooting

Maybe I am a cynic but the rhetoric about mass shootings has become predictable. Common themes to explain these massacres include: lax gun laws, mental illness, misogyny, chronic anger and rage, prescription medications, illicit substance abuse, video games, poor parenting, divorce, bullying, trauma, a mental health system in shambles, isolation and a severe lack of social skills.

The truth is always more complex than any one of these factors. In the case of Elliot Rodger, they probably all played a role, some more than others.

There is also a predictable life cycle of these mass shootings.

First comes the trickle of facts, many of which are initially wrong. Keep that in mind if you are following unfolding breaking news events.

As we speak, reporters are undoubtedly searching for former acquaintances of the shooter to interview, hoping to scoop the latest story. We can’t fault them for doing their jobs.

Next comes the parade of TV experts. It is me or do they say the same thing every time?

Then there will be at least one quasi-celebrity who will make ridiculous statements about what or who is to blame for this mass shooting. Who will it be this time?

We will assuredly hear from the NRA who will pontificate about this latest “crazy killer,” the need for “more good guys with guns” and a revamping of the mental health system (the latter of which I wholeheartedly agree). They don’t typically comment about mass shooting stories until the dust clears a bit.

Also expect to hear from those of whom are convinced of the causal link between mental illness and violence and as a rebuttal those of whom are upset about the connection being made between the two. They are now a staple of every mass shooting news cycle.

Finally, our short attention span and desensitization to violence demands that this story fade from our consciousness by the end of the week or until the next massacre occurs.

Of particular interest are the reactions of others, mostly mental health professionals. Some have balanced opinions and others not so much. I will be highlighting the latter in the coming days.

The TV experts and their opinions are often cringe-worthy. Consider the psychotherapist Dr. Robi Ludwig who said that it was her belief that Elliot Rodger’s rage was due to “homosexual impulses.”

“When I was first listening to him, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s angry with women for rejecting him,'” Ludwig said. “Then I started to have a different idea: ‘Is this somebody who is trying to fight against his homosexual impulses?'”

It is always surprising how many TV mental health professionals are quick to offer a diagnosis of these shooters. Dr. Ludwig said that Rodger’s behaviors may indicate “early schizophrenia.”

There are only a few TV experts who I respect.

What have you heard other “experts” say on TV?

Update: Mother Who Heard Voices Drowned Both Sons

A Pennsylvania woman, Laurel Michelle Schlemmer, 40, drowned her three-year-old son in a bathtub. She also attempted to drown her six-year-old son because “crazy voices” told her she would be a better mother to her third child if the other two “weren’t around.”

According to court documents, the mother put her oldest son, age 7, onto the bus before nine in the morning. She returned to the family home, filled up the bathtub and told the younger boys to take off their pajamas and get into the bathtub. She was fully clothed when she got into the tub as the “crazy voices” told her to push the boys into the water. She sat on top of them while they were submerged under the water.

She told detectives that she thought she would be a better mother to the seven-year-old child if the other two weren’t around. She thought that the other two would be “better off in heaven.”

After getting out of the bathtub, she took off her wet clothes, put them and two towels into a trash bag in the garbage. She then lifted the boys out of the bathtub, put them on the bathroom floor and called 911.

She did not attempt to resuscitate the boys because she “did not know how to do it.”

Another Andrea Yates?

This case is fairly similar to Andrea Yates. Andrea Yates was a middle-class Texas severely mentally ill mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub. The drownings began nearly as soon as her husband left for the day.

She took each child and put them face down in the water, one by one. She then immediately called 911 and spoke “unemotionally” to the authorities.

Soon after she called the authorities, Andrea phoned her husband Rusty. “It’s time. I finally did it” was what she told him on the phone.

Andrea gave a 17 minute confession to the police. Her rationale for killing the children was that she realized she was not a good mother to them and “they weren’t developing correctly.” She also did not want her children to be tormented by Satan. Satan had been conveying “bad thoughts” via the television and cameras in her home. She was frightened that Satan would lure her children to him and that perhaps she had some of Satan in her. She thought that Satan was giving her directions about harming her children and about how to drown them.

Andrea believed that drowning them was a way out for her children who would then be up in heaven, safe with God.

She ultimately thought that she was saving her children by drowning them.

Laurel Michelle Schlemmer might also have believed something similar but it’s too soon to know her exact state of mind.

The most telling aspect of these crimes, is that in both cases the mothers who committed these heinous acts of violence immediately reported themselves to the police. There was no effort to hide what they did, a behavior that often signifies severe mental impairment.

Yet another tragedy involving severe mental illness.

UPDATE: The second child has died and Schlemmer has been charged with homicide.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has reported that she was found not competent to stand trial and was sent to a state mental hospital for further evaluation. A doctor said that she has major depressive disorder, is psychotic and has suicidal ideations.

An April 4, 2014 article states that a 911 worker was fired for disclosing details of the 911 call from Schlemmer. The 911 call-taker said the mother originally said she thought that her children drowned in the bathtub.

Woman Admits to Stabbing Mother On Video

Katie Nichols, the woman in this video, stabbed her mother in the neck, chest and stomach. Her mother is in the ICU.

The case is still unfolding. According to the details so far, Nichols stuffed a sock in her mother’s mouth and attempted to tie her up. She also strangled her mother until she lost consciousness and then began stabbing her with scissors and two knives.

Though no specific mental illness has been identified, Ms. Nichols is clearly not well. The video of Ms. Nichols is quite unique in that she is openly admitting to stabbing her mother on camera. She also discusses the reasons why she did it.

Ms. Nichols believed that her mother had “symbolic representations of [her] death, [her] daughter’s death and [was privy to] every nuclear explosion that was supposed to happen… the satanic cult has been rounded up and killed now.”

The majority of people with mental illnesses are not dangerous but some can be dangerous, including those experiencing threat/control override delusions.

Threat-based delusions occur when a person believes that someone is trying to harm them.

Control override delusions are beliefs that outside forces are controlling one’s mind.

Many studies have shown that individuals affected by the aforementioned types of delusions are more violent than comparable groups without those delusions, but in many cases, substance abuse may have also contributed to the violent behavior.

Ms. Nichols appears to be demonstrating delusional thinking. She believes that her mother is a member of a cult and that her family is in danger. In her mind, she had to save herself and her child by killing her mother.

Obviously, her mother is not in a satanic cult nor is she controlling nuclear explosions, all of which indicate that Ms. Nichols is quite delusional.

People who are delusional believe their erroneous thinking. To them, their beliefs are 100% real. Evidence contradicting their beliefs do not dissuade their views. They cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is not real.

There are some people who feign mental illness after committing a violent act but generally speaking most people don’t. In fact, research shows that the most severely mentally ill people emphatically deny being mentally ill.

Based on her behavior in the video clip, Ms. Nichols seems to truly believe that she had to kill her mother to save herself and her child.

The story of Ms. Nichols and her mother, is yet another illustration of the travesty of untreated mental illness.

Teen With Schizophrenia Shot and Killed By Police In Front of Family

18-year-old Keith Vidal was shot and killed by a police officer Sunday when authorities responded to a call for help from family members. Keith was in the midst of a schizophrenic episode.

According to early reports, Keith had picked up a small screwdriver and refused to put it down, an action which prompted the family to call police. Initially, two officers arrived on the scene. The following events, which ultimately led to Keith being shot, are not fully clear.

According to Keith’s father, “…all of a sudden, this Southport cop [the third officer to arrive on the scene], walked in the house [and said]: ‘I don’t have time for this. Tase him. Let’s get him out of here.”

The officer used a stun gun on Keith who, “hit the ground [and then] this guy shot him,” Keith’s father reported.

Shots were fired “seconds” after the third officer arrived.

Keith was declared dead soon after being rushed to the hospital.

When Keith’s father demanded to know why his stepson was shot, the officer said “well, I’m protecting my officers.”

Keith’s mother Mary told reporters that she had often tried to get help for her son’s mental illness. Apparently, to no avail.

The current mental health system is in shambles and it’s been this way for some time, especially for people with serious mental illnesses. There are now more people residing in jails and prisons across the United States, than in psychiatric hospitals. The Los Angeles County Jail, for instance, is considered the largest defacto psychiatric facility.

Police shootings of people with mental illnesses is not a new phenomenon. An investigation by the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegraph uncovered “that at least half of the estimated 375 to 500 people shot and killed by police each year in this country have mental health problems.”

Their investigation also revealed that in the state of Maine, the Attorney General’s Office, which investigated all of the police shootings, never found one of the shootings to be unjustified.

There are also no federal statistics about police shootings of mentally ill people.

I have worked with many police officers who were called upon to deal with severely mentally ill people. Some felt that it wasn’t their job to deal with “those people” but many others were kind, compassionate and patient with those of whom they were attempting to help.

Studies show that police officers who have undergone crisis intervention training (CIT), are better able to effectively de-escalate a mental health crisis. CIT should be mandatory for all law enforcement officials, at least until they are no longer the front-line responders in mental health emergencies.

Keith’s parents have said that the policeman who shot their son is a cold-blooded murderer.

Keith’s parents said they cannot understand what happened.

“Where is the justice, why did they shoot my son? This is what’s wrong with our mental health system.”

The authorities are investigating the events.

Twitter Reaction

 

 

 

The Rush to Diagnose The Colorado Shooter

Dave Cullen, author of the New York Times bestseller Columbine was part of a roundtable discussion this morning on MSNBC with Chris Hayes. The topic was the media coverage of the latest mass shooting. When conducting research for his book, Cullen reviewed the early news reports regarding the “facts” about the two shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. In the several days after the shooting, the media interviewed many acquaintances of the two boys. What Cullen ultimately realized was that those early “facts” about Eric and Dylan, (proffered mainly by acquaintances) what essentially became the media narrative, were untrue. Despite that media narrative being untrue, many people still continue to believe those “facts.”

The same thing could easily happen in this case.

Another interesting element of the Columbine shooting media aftermath, mentioned by Cullen, was the leading questions asked by reporters to the acquaintances being interviewed about Eric and Dylan. Those leading questions included (paraphrasing): “we heard Eric and Dylan were loners, is this true? We heard that they were part of the “trench coat mafia,” what do you know about this? We heard that they were bullied, what did you see?” and so forth. Those leading questions by reporters could have easily swayed those being interviewed into giving an answer that they may not have given otherwise.

The Psychological Status of the Colorado Shooter

At this time, we know virtually nothing about the shooters’ mental health history. News outlets are reporting, based mainly on interviews with acquaintances, that Holmes was quiet and shy. With regard to a psychiatric diagnosis, it is impossible to know what diagnosis he has, if any. Only after extensive evaluations and interviews, with trained mental health professionals, could a reliable diagnosis be determined. Short of that, every diagnosis is simply guess.

In time, we will learn a great deal of information about the shooter’s mental health status. Being quiet and shy, liking Guitar Hero, and possibly setting up a profile on Adult Friend Finder are not the actions and behavior of any identifiable mental illness. In the meantime, resist the urge to diagnose the shooter. Critically evaluate the media’s message and don’t jump to conclusions based on a very limited amount of information that is currently available.

Have a comment or want to reprint this article? Let me know.

Clinical Terms In The News, Related to the Colorado Shooting

In light of what many are calling the largest mass shooting in U.S. history, you will likely be hearing many reports about the clinical and psychological status of the shooter. At this time, there have been no reports about his clinical or psychological status but mental health professionals have been speculating about it in the news. Below is a list of clinical terms and information that you may be hearing about or may be wondering about, in relation to the Colorado shooter.

Schizophrenia: Schizophrenia is a severe and debilitating thought disorder that is diagnosed in less than 2% of the United States population. Symptoms of the disorder include: having a break with reality, illogical thoughts and extreme emotional and social dysregulation, among others. The probability of developing schizophrenia is relatively low compared to other mental health disorders.

The perception of individuals with schizophrenia being violent remains strong in our society. The facts do not match that perception. Individuals with schizophrenia are no more dangerous than the average person except under four conditions that increase the likelihood for violence. Those four conditions include:

1. Having a history of violence
2. Actively using drugs and alcohol
3. Off medication and actively psychotic
4. Lack of insight into one’s mental illness

Those conditions may increase the likelihood of violence but they do not guarantee violence. It is difficult (and in fact may not be possible) to accurately predict who is going to be violent and under which conditions.

The National Institute of Mental Health states the following about schizophrenia and violence:

“Most violent crimes are not committed by persons with schizophrenia and most persons with schizophrenia do not commit violent acts.”

Individuals with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence.

Schizophrenia is often confused with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which was formerly called multiple personality disorder.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: DID symptoms include: the presence of two or more identities, at least two of these identities recurrently take control of the person’s behavior and having an inability to recall personal information. DID is very rare and is diagnosed in less than 1% of population.

The Bottom Line: Schizophrenia is not DID and multiple personality disorder is now called DID.

Psychosis: Psychosis is a break with reality. An individual who is psychotic might hear voices, see things that are not real or believe that someone is following them. The voices associated with psychosis are generally negative. The voices may be telling an individual to harm themselves or someone else. The voices can be very unpleasant and frightening.

Psychosis is associated with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorder not otherwise specified (NOS), and several others.

An individual can have a psychotic break and never have another. In clinical terms, that is called Schizophreniform disorder.

Psychopath: According to research by Hare and Newman, psychopaths are:

  • shallow,
  • deceptive,
  • grandiose,
  • dominant,
  • superficial,
  • manipulative,
  • are unable to establish emotional bonds,
  • lack empathy, guilt, and remorse,
  • are social deviants, impulsive and ignore the norms of society.

Many clinicians and researchers believe that psychopaths are untreatable.

Psychopath is a term used interchangeably with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), sociopathy, and psychopathy but they are not same, at least technically (and according to Hare). Research shows, according to Hare, that most people with ASPD are not psychopathic but most psychopathic individuals meet the current diagnostic criteria for ASPD. Despite Hare’s contention that psychopaths and individuals with ASPD are very different, some researchers contend that both psychopaths and individuals with ASPD are virtually the same.

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD): Antisocial personality disorder is characterized by difficulty interacting with others or lacking the desire to interact with others. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder are typically not shy. On some occasions, they can be charismatic. Ted Bundy, who is considered by many to be a “textbook” case of ASPD, was generally well-liked.

Individuals with ASPD lack empathy, tend to be arrogant, are excessively opinionated, can be charming, and engage in aggressive or criminal acts. There are also characteristically irresponsible, frequently manipulative, impulsive, and have no regard for others.

The aforementioned are some of the terms and phrases that you will likely hear discussed in reference to the Colorado shooter, and in other cases of a similar nature.

Parents of Mentally Ill Psych Hospital Shooter Blog About the Incident

Two Interesting News Stories

Sea of Heartbreak: Blog Post By Parents Of Killer John Shick Leaves More Questions Than Answers

Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

The above article is about a blog post by the parents of a schizophrenic man John Shick who killed one person and wounded 5 others on a shooting spree at a large psychiatric facility in Pittsburgh, PA on March 8, 2012. You can read the entire blog post by his parents here. It is very interesting to read the words of his parents. You don’t often have access to such materials.

Shick had a history of schizophrenia and was involuntarily committed four times since 2005. His parents stated that he would often stop taking his medication, and “over the last years [their relationship] was difficult at best, as he became increasingly surly, withdrawn, and verbally abusive, though never physically threatening.”

John Shick was killed by police on the day of the incident.

Voices from Solitary: “The SHU Is California’s Equivalent of Waterboarding”

Source: www.solitarywatch.com

Continuing with their “Voices of Solitary” chronicles, this article is written by an inmate in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU). Inmates in SHU spend on average 22 1/2 hours in a cell alone, for an average of over 6 years. Very powerful.