It is unlikely that anyone truly knows what goes on inside the head of an individual who can commit an act of violence as horrific as the massacre that occurred in Aurora, Colorado on Friday morning. As cameras scanned the courtroom today, suspected shooter, James Holmes, displayed a number of facial expressions, but none made his thoughts decipherable to the millions of onlookers tuning in.
In 2012, there have been several reports suggesting that hundreds of Americans are capable of some sort of psychotic break – fortunately, few take it the level of James Holmes. In March, the very public meltdown of “Kony 2012” founder, Jason Russell, shocked the masses and, only a few days later, a Jet Blue pilot struck fear in the hearts of passengers when he unraveled into an inexplicable erratic episode. Only a month ago, reports of a Miami man with little more than marijuana in his system, attacked and literally consumed a homeless man’s face – subsequent reports of similar acts have been described worldwide. And these are only a short list of so-called “breaking points” that have consumed mainstream and social media – it is likely that many more occur behind closed doors and out of the limelight.
A study, published in the June 2012 Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed that Americans are far more stressed in this decade than they have been in the last thirty years – as much as 30 percent more stressed. Sadly, the most affected by extreme stress are the youth of America. The study found that stress levels peaked in subjects in their twenties and dwindled with each decade of life.
The research is aimed to continue, analyzing the impact on various demographics to determine which portions of the population are at the greatest risk for physical illness and psychological disturbances related to stress. Dr. David Spiegel, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine told USA Today that today’s stress levels should come as no surprise, “….it’s harder to turn off information, and it’s harder to buffer ourselves from the world.”
His statement suggests that the current decline of the mind is linked to the incessant stimulation blared by technological advances that allow everyone to remain “plugged in.”
And other experts speculate on that very theory - what used to be classically deemed a nervous breakdown has manifested in what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), the handbook of psychiatric diagnoses, terms a “brief psychotic disorder.” This is an event lasting at least a day, but less than a month. Then there are the psychological illnesses that can suddenly surface.
T. Byram Karasu, chief psychiatrist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York told The Wall Street Journal, “…excessive stimuli, especially sounds and lights, can trigger psychotic symptoms in people with underlying psychological issues.”
“Age also plays a factor in diagnosis: a young adult who has a psychotic episode might be developing schizophrenia. In an elderly person, it could indicate dementia,” David Hellerstein, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University also said in a Wall Street Journal interview.
In the case of James Holmes, speculation exists that he may be suffering from schizophrenia, but little concrete information has surfaced. As individuals who have encountered Holmes come forward, hind sight becomes 20/20 – which, says Dr. Hellerstein is not unusual in most cases of psychotic breaks. He told WSJ, “When people present in a kind of rapid onset of a psychotic state that hasn’t been noticed before and that seems to come out of the blue, in retrospect there is usually some clinical prodrome,” or early symptom.
Investigators are stilling looming into Holmes seemingly untainted past – so far nothing more than a speeding ticket has been found on his record. A variety of psychiatrists have weighed in on the mental state of Holmes and some, like David Randazzo, who studies targeted violence, believe people reach a point and collapse under an invisible pressure. He told ABC News, “These are often folks who often up onto this point have been functioning fairly normally but went through a series of events, a series of losses, ended up in absolute despair or desperation.”
No one that knew Holmes, for now, is reporting any recent events that would have led him to commit the heinous crime he has been accused of, but Randazzo told ABC News that doesn’t mean he isn’t suffering from a mental illness.
In cases such as these, the “why” question often goes unanswered, but in light of the increasing incidences of psychotic breaks dotting the globe, it may time to ask what about society needs to be changed – before it’s too late.