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Mass shootings in Ca should not inspire knee-jerk response of new gun laws

Reforming mental health services a better place to start
Reforming mental health services a better place to start
Jessica Hathaway

It is only a matter of time before politicians around the country jump on the bandwagon and respond to the Isla Vista murders by pushing for more gun control laws. It is inevitable that it will make the news that a series of state lawmakers are submitting bills to add more restrictions to an existing list in an effort to prevent another mass shooting. This is what happened after the school shootings in Columbine, Newtown, and Virginia Tech. The knee-jerk response is that something must be done to prevent these crimes from happening, but the biggest problem is that no one seems to know what must be done. According to the experts, there are some common characteristics that stand out among the shooters, but not everyone who fits a profile will pick up a gun and start shooting at random people. One thing that the experts can agree on is that the killer's motive is predominately based upon getting revenge against someone who has wronged them- real or imagined, and that if they cannot exact revenge against that specific person that they will seek out anyone who fits the prototype or gets in their way. While some of the killers may be depressed and suffer from low self-esteem, many of them are callous and unemotional. A May 31 article that appeared in Penn Live pondered the role that American culture plays into mass killings. In considering what societal and personal factors may have led the young man to commit this heinous crime, the authors agreed about one thing: the guy was evil and should not become a media celebrity. Too late for that. His name is plastered all over the media which is exactly what this person desired all along.

A May 29 article that appeared in the Atlantic which was written by a California clinical psychologist said that the lesson that society must learn from the Isla Vista shootings is that prevention efforts must not only be available to people with a mental illness who are at-risk of harming themselves or others but that the quality and sophistication of the services must match the needs of the individual. According to Dr. Enrico Gnaulati, he believes that the killer was misdiagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and that it is more probable that the 22-year old man developed malignant narcissism. By all accounts, the young man had a complicated and dysfunctional relationship with his parents. His mother claimed that he was diagnosed with autism, yet his father said he was unaware of the same. His grandmother described him as disturbed and began seeing a therapist almost every day almost daily. At one point, he resided in a facility for adults with disabilities and as an adult ceased taking his medication. What is known is that he harbored an intense hatred and resentment towards members of his own family and that he planned the murders over a long period of time. Whether or not he was autistic could be debated for years. What seems to be agreed upon in the psychiatric community is that his 141-page manifesto revealed a dangerous person who should have been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. He exhibited many of the signs and symptoms of this personality disorder including a grandiose sense of self-importance; preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, and brilliance; believed he was special and should only associate with other high-status people; required excessive admiration; had a sense of entitlement; lacked empathy; envious of others and believed they were envious of him; took advantage of others to achieve his own ends; and showed arrogant, haughty behaviors and attitudes. His parents tried to do right by him by getting him into therapy as early as eight-years old, but this was a cold, calculating person who knew how to manipulate others. Unlike most mental health disorders, there is no one treatment approach that works for people with personality disorders. If he were depressed, doctors might have prescribed medication to treat the depression, but there is no pill that can be prescribed to treat narcissistic personality disorder. Because an individual's personality develops over their youth into early adulthood, the long-term therapy goal is to reshape the personality to decrease rigidity in personal and social situations and to decrease distress and impairment.

What seems like only a small window in time where a series of things could have been done to prevent the mass shootings closed forever and there is no way to save the victims who died for no reason other than they were at a particular place at the same time a seriously disturbed man showed up with guns. Enacting more laws to restrict people's access to guns will only work to put up more roadblocks for responsible gun owners who have no intention of blowing up a bunch of students. News reports said that the killer obtained the guns legally, and he made a point of taking time in plotting his revenge so he could do the most amount of damage to human life as possible. He spent at least 18 months planning the murders and finding a location in Isla Vista where there would be a large number of students and the least possible number of police to interfere with his path of destruction. Just the same, gun rights advocates are wrong too by insisting the solution to mass shootings is to toss every adult in the schools with a gun in case of a gun-fight at the Ok Corral.

Preventing mass shootings means an overhaul of the entire system and accurately diagnosing and treating people with mental illness. Even though the young man received early intervention services at a young age and was followed into adulthood, there were obvious cracks in the system that set him up for failure. Preventing this crime would mean going back in time to adolescence when being diagnosed and treated for a personality disorder was imperative. Also, he should have been seeing experienced counselors who would have picked up on his manipulations and worked with him to develop empathy for other human beings. Most important would have been involving his family in the counseling process to get everyone on the same page. Once it was known that he was a clear and present danger to himself and others, steps should have been taken to get him committed. The police officers who investigated his mother's complaint did not investigate his apartment saying that he did not appear to be emotionally unhinged. Meanwhile, the killer wrote that he thought that the gig was up the moment he opened up the door.

In Pennsylvania, the Mental Health Procedures Act outlines the rights and responsibilities for the treatment of mentally ill individuals and also provides guidelines for involuntarily committing a person who threatens to commit a violent act. The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas holds mental court hearings at two locations each day of the week, and in other counties that do not hold these type of hearings, the County Mental Health Delegate determines if an individual should be involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital to be evaluated and treated. The process in this state to get a person with a mental illness who is over the age of 18 and threatened to hurt themselves or others committed against their will to a psychiatric facility is integral in situations where saving lives is at stake. Providing a judge agrees to the commitment, a person can be held for at least five days under a 302 petition to be evaluated. If at that point concerns remain that the person is still dangerous, a 303 petition can be filed for extended involuntary treatment for up to 20 additional days of treatment in an inpatient hospital, partial hospitalization, or outpatient treatment program. A 304 petition allows for another 90 day stay, and a 305 petition permits up to 180 days of treatment in a facility. There are no limits to the number of 305 petitions that a hospital may file which may be beneficial to protect the rest of society from a person who will never be safe to live outside of a secure treatment facility. On the flip side, a person who improves and could live outside on their own with support could end up being committed for life if the stigma and fear of mental illness takes over.

In the aftermath of the Isla Vista shootings it is likely that the media will continue to shine the spotlight on the state of California. For some special interest groups, the loss of lives will be an opportunity to gain support for whatever cause they support. For others, it will be an all-out war between the gun rights and gun advocates to crusade towards getting more backing from politicians looking to get re-elected at the general election in November. For the families who lost loved ones, it will be a time to mourn the loss of young lives gone too soon. The public will want answers and reassurance that they will be kept safe from madmen carrying guns. Mental health professionals will come under scrutiny as officials will demand that they fix whatever it is that was broke. In the meantime, the rest of the country will sit back and watch waiting until the next tragic act of senseless violence makes the news and Isla Vista is but a distant memory like the other shootings have been over the years. The alternative is to fix a system that is broke and to address real problems before they are beyond repair which requires us as a society to stop looking the other way.

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