Deinstitutionalization Kills


Every thinking person is searching for answers and solutions in the aftermath of Newtown.  There probably aren’t any satisfactory answers.  Solutions are difficult to reconcile with competing societal interests.  Politicians always feel that something, anything, should be done to address even the smallest of problems in society, usually to justify their own existence or to protect us from the latest perceived Boogeyman.  Sadly, the Newtown massacre isn’t a small problem and it’s a REAL Boogeyman.  In this case the politicians and talking heads demanding action are right, but are they going to address the root cause of the problem (mental illness) and not just the contributing cause (weapon / gun).

Some form of increased gun/ammo regulation is forthcoming.  It’s an emotional response and understandable.  However, it won’t solve the root of the problem.   In formal root cause analysis,  the true root cause is found by determining “what single action or event, if it did not occur, or was not present, would have resulted in the event not occurring.”  There typically are contributing causes to an event that support the root cause.  Typically, there is only one root cause to an event though rare exceptions exist.  So let’s play.  In this case, if Adam Lanza didn’t have a gun, could he still have committed act(s) of murder?  That answer is clearly yes.  Maybe as many don’t die but he still goes off based on whatever triggers he had in his head.  Next,  if Adam Lanza was institutionalized and/or receiving appropriate mental health treatment, would he have still committed act(s) of murder?  Well, that’s harder to say, in part because we don’t know what treatment he may (or may not) have been receiving but it’s not unreasonable to conclude “No” – were he institutionalized.  Late breaking information (of unknown veracity though being reported in the MSM), indicate that his mother was pursuing some form institutionalization and speculation immediately turns to this as possibly being the trigger for Adam Lanza to snap.

There probably are “too many” guns floating around in our society – legal and otherwise.  However, any such effort to tighten up on gun regulation only addresses part of the issue, and maybe not the most important part – which is the way in which mental illness is addressed in this country.  I don’t purport to personally have the answers, I’m not a mental  health professional, but these two articles shed some insight into significant problems in how this country deals with mental health problems.

Thinking the Unthinkable

Madness – Deinstitutionalization – Murder

The first article is a now viral blog entry by the mother of a current day young boy with growing mental health issues, and her struggle to find help in a system that effectively puts her, her family, and the rest of us, at increased risk of something going wrong.  The second link (h/t to @woodshedder for drawing attention to this the other day), is a paper generated earlier in 2012 on the Blowback from the decades long policy of “Deinstitutionalization” of the mentally ill.  This paper lays out a pretty strong case that we (and other countries) have seen a rise in violence and in particular mass violence events ever since it was decided that the mentally ill are better off (and have a right to) being treated outside of mental institutions and in their communities.  It appears to me that this policy, more than any other single factor, accounts for the rise in Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, ad infinitum, events.  In fact, we’ve become so de-sensitized to this problem that smaller events with low body counts go largely unnoticed  by the national media.  This is a new phenomenon that started in the 1980s and doesn’t correlate with gun sales or availability.  However the increase in mass shooting incidents does correlate with the implementation of Deinstitutionalization and is supported by the extremely high percentage of events that are committed by those previously diagnosed with some form of serious mental illness.  In fact, we’ve all seen the statistics in the past few days…gun ownership has decreased in the US over the same time that these mass casualty attacks have increased.  Clearly, something else is going on other than guns being too freely available.

I point the above out in the belief that if we wind up doing the simple thing here – banning assault rifles, limiting magazine sizes, etc., these will largely prove ineffective because these actions don’t address the root of the problem.  In a theoretical world, if all guns were eliminated tomorrow, we’d still have the problem of inadequately-treated mentally ill people becoming deranged and committing heinous acts of seemingly random violence.  Sure, they wouldn’t be able to steal a Glock and play Natural Born Killers (BTW thanks Quentin Tarantino for glorifying excessive violence in society – that helps / sarcasm off), but they surely could club or knife people to death.  Home Depot sells lots of things that could be used to commit murder.  Or blow people up – see below.  While the individual death count in an average nutter event might be limited to something more “palatable” (say three or four), the random attacks would still happen.

And to my point about other weapons being used to commit mass murders, read about the Worst School Massacre in US history (no its NOT Newtown CT’s Sandy Hook Elementary), courtesy of Wikipedia:

The Bath School disaster is the name given to three bombings in Bath Township, Michigan on May 18, 1927, which killed 38 elementary school children, two teachers, and four other adults; at least 58 people were injured. The perpetrator first killed his wife, and committed suicide with his last explosion. Most of the victims were children in the second to sixth grades (7–14 years of age) attending the Bath Consolidated School. Their deaths constitute the deadliest mass murder in a school in United States history.

2 Responses to “Deinstitutionalization Kills”

  1. Looks like motive was mom in process of having him committed. Court was too slow.

  2. The legal system & the mental heath system really need to start coordinating their activities to be able to act fast together when necessary. When someone is a danger to themselves, their family, and/or their community, this can be a very urgent situation.

    And I agree. One reason for de-institutionalization was to save money. But a very bad idea. There are some corners you just can not afford to cut. Some kinds of spending are very necessary.

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