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Jared Loughner And The Sorry State Of Mental Health Care, Part III

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Steven Taylor’s follow-up piece to my post about the gaps in our mental health care system that have been revealed by the case of Jared Lougnher. Along those same lines, The Washington Post reports today on what could have been done for Loughner, and notes that something could have been done if only someone had taken a little initiative:

Under Arizona law, any one of Jared Lee Loughner’s classmates or teachers at Pima Community College so concerned about his increasingly bizarre behavior could have contacted local officials and asked that he be evaluated for mental illness and potentially committed for psychiatric treatment.

That, according to local mental health and law enforcement officials, never happened.

“To the best of our knowledge, he was never and is currently not enrolled in our system,” said Neal Cash, president of the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, which provides mental health services in Tucson and Pima County for the state. While most of those it serves are on Medicaid, Cash said anyone diagnosed with a serious mental illness would be in its system.

(…)

Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.

“When people appear mentally ill or show some instability, how do you get them to [mental health] resources if the system doesn’t know those people are out there?” Cash said. “Our crisis line is manned 24/7. Anyone concerned about his behavior could have called at any time.”

In this respect, Arizona appears to be different from most other states where such a procedure either does not exist at all or where the process for having someone committed even for a short period of evaluation by mental health professional is far more cumbersome. So, then, the question arises, why didn’t anyone do or say anything? I don’t know that you can expect Loughner’s classmates, most of him seem to have only had a passing acquaintence with him, to take this kind of initiative (assuming they were even aware that the law allowed them to do it), but what about his friends, his family, or the school that kicked him out because of his clear psychological problems:

“In retrospect, they dropped the ball,” said E. Fuller Torrey, a local psychiatrist who researches schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and founded the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington. “At least they got him off campus, so they can say, ‘We’ve discharged our responsibility, we’re protecting our students.’ I suppose they could argue, ‘We don’t have responsibility for the larger community.’ ”

(…)

Some of Loughner’s professors said they were concerned about his nonsensical answers on tests, geometric doodles, disruptive outbursts in class and disconnect from reality, that they contacted their superiors. Philosophy professor Kent Slinker told the online magazine Slate that Loughner was “someone whose brains were scrambled.” Slinker said that he even discussed getting help for Loughner, but that school policy was for students to go of their own volition.

But Torrey, Cash and others said that is not the case under Arizona law. It’s just that people either don’t know it or are “reticent” about reporting mental distress, Cash said.

That’s certainly part of it, I’m guessing, and the general lack of public knowledge about mental illness along with the fact that most people are just plain uncomfortable talking about mental illness to begin with contributes to a general attitude of not wanting to get involved. In the college’s case, though, I think there’s more involved.  We’ve seen many examples over the years of colleges sweeping students with mental health issues under the rug, or merely expelling them rather than getting them any real help. Virginia Tech was obviously the most prominent, and tragic example of this, but there have been others, not to mention the cases we don’t know about. Rather than reporting Loughner as permitted by Arizona law, it was easier for Pima Community College to simply expel him, both because it got rid of the problem quickly and because it avoided the possibility of exposing the school to litigation for making the report. They obviously knew he was a man with psychological problems, otherwise they would not have made his return contingent on a certification from a psychologist that he was not a danger to himself or others, but it was easier to just say “it’s not my problem.”

So, instead of it being the school’s problem, Jared Loughner became a problem for everyone on Saturday.

There’s a saying associated with the War On Terror that received a lot of publicity when the Times Square bombing was thwarted thanks, in part, to a pair of quick thinking t-shirt salesman who saw something suspicious. If you see something, say something. If someone had done that with Jared Loughner six months ago, this tragedy might have been averted.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. […] is least among them.   As Doug and Steven have argued well in their posts on the matter, we are failing in our care for the mentally ill in this country, including those with violent tendencies.   But I’d stop short of saying […]

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  2. […] to the need for a re-evaluation of the mental health system. We should be asking how Jared Loughner slipped through the cracks of society to end up in that Safeway parking lot, and finding ways to get people like him the help […]

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  3. PD Shaw says:

    I think it’s worth remembering that in the VaTech incident, the student was subject to a similar mandatory mental health evaluation and he either was sufficiently functional at the time or simply did not cooperate. The biggest obstacle for his problems being identified and treated was himself.

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  4. PJ says:

    Here’s a tip what would happen if anyone actually tried to fix the sorry state of mental health care:

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! INSANE PANELS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Obama is trying to silence his opposition by setting up panels that will declare them all insane and then have them committed!!!!!!!!

    Which would make the current rhetoric even more violent, and make more insane people do insane things. Repeat until we welcome our new Chinese overlords.

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  5. PD Shaw says:

    I think one story that should be considered before resolving to liberalize the process of petitioning for a psych evaluation is Shirley Allen (incident a/k/a Roby Ridge).

    Her family and the sheriff suspected that she needed mental health care, so they petitioned and received a court order authorizing her to be taken to a hospital for a psych exam. When the Sheriff showed up at her door, she brandished a shotgun. They tried to talk her out, then threw tear gas, and she fired back. For thirty-nine days, law enforcement blockaded her house, played loud Barry Manilow music, brought barking dogs, and arrested people trying to bring her food.

    The question became what level of violence and expense should the state use to try to help this women? Finally, she wandered outside and was shot w/ rubber bullets and taken for an examination which concluded that she was not a danger to herself or others.

    The operation cost up to $1 million. I doubt she was mentally healthy, but perhaps not dangerously mentally ill. Just paranoid that everyone was out to get her.

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  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    He lived with his parents. He surely mentioned his feelings about the Congresswoman at some point. I am sure someone in his family noticed his strange behavior else we need to look at that family. There are people who could and should be held responsible but they do not live in Alaska or New York or Washington D.C.. They do not work for any news agency nor do they belong to any political party except as a side issue. Had this guy be dianosed and treated there are 6 people who would be alive today. The only bright spot is many with an agenda revealed themselves as moralless liars who only want to rule over others by any means necessary. There are many who comment at this blog who fall into that catagory. Sadly.

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  7. PJ says:

    @Zelsdorf:
    “He surely mentioned his feelings about the Congresswoman at some point. I am sure someone in his family noticed his strange behavior else we need to look at that family.”

    “Had this guy be dianosed and treated there are 6 people who would be alive today.”

    His parents should have reported him. And while we’re at it, if your child, sibling, parent, or old grandfather is mentioning their rage about Obama, talking about “2nd Amendment Remedies”, etc, then you should report them, because who knows, they might actually try to kill someone.
    Maybe they have some mental disorder that only can be diagnosed by professionals, so why take a chance? Report them today, tomorrow it can be too late!

    Perhaps you should have thought that comment through?

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