Tag Archives: schizophrenia

Chantel Garrett’s “Three Steps to Fix Our Mental Health System and Prevent Violence”

Brain images from people with schizophrenia. Photo by Flickr user http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca.

In the month since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary (which as far as we know, was not committed by someone with mental illness), I’ve been encouraged by how much of the conversation has been framed around mental health and the lack of services for those who need them. We saw that front-and-center with Liza Long’s powerful “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” post. We’ve seen it elsewhere, too. I want to call attention another such story today, because it makes great points about what’s missing and what society needs to do — not only to curb mass shootings, but also to help the many, many nonviolent people who struggle with mental illness daily but can’t get the help they need because it doesn’t exist or isn’t available to them.

Chantel Garrett wrote this piece about her brother, Max, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. In her article, she doesn’t just talk about how difficult it is for Max to stay afloat. She also offers concrete steps for repairing the system so that Max and others like him might hope for functional, fulfilling lives.

Mostly, I want to let Garrett do the talking here, because she does it well:

2) Change the law to more easily help an adult loved one get involuntary care when they desperately need it – before anyone gets hurt.

We must begin to fill the gaps in the mental health care system that could have potentially helped to prevent recent massacres at the hands of people in need of psychiatric intervention. Studies show that early intervention greatly improves the prospect for recovery. In my own experience with my brother, a first dose of anti-psychotics during a psychotic episode palpably reduces paranoia and hallucinations.

A few years ago, Max went off his medication, barricading himself in his apartment and warning his family to stay away. In an extremely psychotic state, he plastered the Web with terrifying words and images, predominantly aimed at the people who love him most. While punishing to read, as the time and severity of his symptoms wore on, his posts became our only proof that he was still alive – our only hope that he could still get help.

For two months, my parents and I campaigned the local police to knock down his door and get him to a hospital. My dad became a fixture at the police station. We sent the police chief Max’s blog and threatening emails. We explained his diagnosis, his years of involuntary hospital commitments and dire need for care before he did more permanent damage to his brain. His neighbors also called the police to complain. The police went to his house multiple times but said they didn’t have cause to forcefully enter. Their response was always the same. “We understand that he’s very sick, but what has he done? Call us when he’s done something and we’ll pick him up.”

Males with schizophrenia most often become symptomatic in their late teens to early 20s. From a legal standpoint, parents hands are often tied trying to get help for their sick child who is of legal age, with the current standard of “danger to oneself or others” far too hazardous.

The “dangerous” bar is too high to get someone with acute psychotic symptoms care when they need it most – and when they are the largest threat to themselves and, potentially, their family and community. Why should it not instead be a standard of gravely disabled – unable to care for oneself or for others? Surely, if the police could have somehow glimpsed at him and his apartment, they would have immediately seen that he was unable to care for himself.

We need to change the law, and create a mental health workforce working alongside officers and families to provide more proactive, onsite assessment of people who are credibly unable to care for themselves – before it gets to the point of “dangerous.”

Do you know someone who’s mentally ill and prone to violence when they’re in their darkest periods? If so, what do you think would help them the most?

Did video games make him do it?

In the weeks before he stormed his high school with weapons, Alexander Youshock played “violent video games in which characters were often armed with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails,” according to wire reports. Image from Call of Duty 3.

On August 24, 2009 — days after school started for the fall — teenager Alexander Youshock arrived for morning classes at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif. Unlike his fellow students, he was armed with 10 pipe bombs, a chainsaw, and a 10-inch knife.

Youshock’s fate now rests in the hands of a jury, currently deliberating in a San Mateo County courtroom where Youshock stands accused on two counts of attempted murder and other charges. No one was injured in the attack; Youshock was unable to start his chainsaw, and the two pipe bombs he detonated weren’t close enough to harm anyone. If the jury finds him guilty of any charges, a second trial will determine his sanity.

Youshock is allegedly schizophrenic; he told the court he began hearing voices when he was in the eighth grade. In high school, he said he felt “singled out” by counselors and teachers who pushed him to participate in classes and do homework. His cracked state of mind may have motivated the attack on the high school, expert witnesses testified.

And yet, somehow video games get tangled up in all this: “In the months leading up to the Hillsdale attack, Youshock spent most days in his room playing violent video games in which characters were often armed with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. His ability to tell the difference between his violent fantasies and their possible consequences in the real world became obscured by his mental disorder, [psychologist Alfred] Fricke said.”

Once again, video games are dragged through the mud in a court case where it’s not apparent that a teen’s gaming habits — or even his mental stability — are to blame. Sure, it’s possible that Youshock has the very rare form of schizophrenia that can make some sufferers harbor violent fantasies and even act on them. Youshock himself said that his inspiration came predominantly from the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and a 2009 school shooting in Winnenden, Germany.

But most people who learn about such shootings don’t bring bombs to high school. The same can be said of most schizophrenics, and most players of violent video games — even ones with pipe bombs in them. It takes a lot more than any of these factors — and more than these factors combined — to push someone this far. And, so far, we don’t know what leads boys like Youshock to attack their own stomping grounds. As long as we keep focusing on distractions like video games, we’ll never figure it out.

Parents, what are your concerns about video games like the ones Youshock played? Have you ever prevented your kids from playing them? How did that effort turn out?