Thursday, July 26, 2012

Virginia Tech, Tucson, and now Aurora Colorado…will we ever learn?

      As Harry Truman once said, “There is nothing new in the world, except the history you do not know.”
     Recently, another tragedy of unimaginable proportions occurred, this one in Aurora Colorado; which left 12 people dead, and 58 wounded 9 critically. This deadly rampage took place during a midnight episode of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight”. James Holmes, a disturbed young man, dressed in SWAT gear and wielding a semi-automatic weapon entered the theater and committed these atrocities, by randomly shooting innocent people.
     Since we tend to ignore history, it continues to repeat itself with the same ominous results. Predictably, the national media blasted away with their usual misplaced blame at specific groups. Repeating the mistakes made in the aftermath of the tragedy in Tucson Arizona about 19 months prior, the first target was the local Tea Party. Two notable ABC news correspondents, Brian Ross and George Stephanopoulos, did their best “Dumb and Dumber” impersonations when they alleged that the shooter was a member of the Colorado Tea Party. This announcement was orchestrated with a measure of “Yellow Journalism” not seen since those Tucson shootings, because they once again, never did check their facts. The two seemed to be blinded by their ignorance and failed to believe that there could be more than one person in Colorado with the name James Holmes. Not surprisingly, there are!
     To refresh everyone’s memory, after the tragic shootings in Tucson, the media and politicians were outlandish with their assertion that Sarah Palin and the Tea Party were somehow instrumental in that tragedy. As time went on, the world soon discovered that there was no culpability on their part, just like in Aurora Colorado. It bears adding that the alleged perpetrator in Tucson, Jared Loughner; possessed political views more in tuned with the liberal thinking Occupy Movement. However, neither Mr. Stephanopoulos nor Mr. Ross has acknowledged that as of this time nor are they likely to do so in the foreseeable future. 
     That being said, all of their stupidity distracts from the real issues, and the one challenge we need to direct more energy into, which could, in fact, prevent some of these tragedies like the ones mentioned. Recent history is illustrating that the direction we are taking in this country, is not working! Major changes in the mental health system are needed and are long overdue!
     On April 16, 2007, Seung Hui Cho, a disturbed student at Virginia Tech University shot 32 fellow students to death and wounded 17 more before killing himself. A commission was formed to study this tragedy and came up with changes in civil commitment laws, but the changes were not properly funded. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, since 2005, in that state, the number of inpatient beds has surprisingly decreased by 15%. This in spite of calls for fundamental changes in the treatment of the severely mentally ill!
     On January 8, 2011, the aforementioned Jared Loughner, a severely mentally ill man shot and killed 6 people at a political rally in Tucson Arizona and wounded 14 others. Among the most seriously injured was U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is still battling to recover from her near fatal wounds. In Arizona, even with all the calls for change, and with so much national attention, the number of beds has decreased by 23% in the last 7 years!
     Now we have this unthinkable massacre in Colorado. Though we do not have a confirmed diagnosis of James Holmes, there is emerging a vast deal of evidence to suggest the basis for his being so disturbed.
     Here, is a 24 year old college student who is highly intelligent, and who graduated high school with honors. He was recently enrolled in a PHD Program for neuroscience, and has been described as a very bright, quiet and pleasant person, but also a loner with no friends. Though there are people who are challenging his intellect, he did stand out academically.  Some of that does draw a comparison to the plight of Dr. John Nash, the brilliant mathematician, whose personal battle with schizophrenia, and academic prowess was chronicled in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.” It must be added that James Holmes is in an age bracket that is a high risk for developing some forms of mental illness. Again, as this case develops, much of what we learn about seems to fall within the symptomology of some form of an emotional disorder.
     Many people are calling James Holmes “evil” and no matter what the cause there is no defense for what he did. His acts were heinous in nature and in the future, he will most likely face the death penalty. I am not giving him an excuse; it is the causation of his acts that we NEED to examine and understand. This is essential to gather insight so in time; we can prevent similar tragedies from occurring. We need to grasp why a seemingly talented young man with unlimited prospects of success, drops out of school, assumes the identity of a comic book character and commits mass murder. It would not be a reach to believe that he developed some cognitive distortion that threw him into such a delusional state, and in time, we will discover what that is.
     Some in the national media are speculating that this young man exhibited no warning signs. That is highly doubtful, as it is more likely that people just did not recognize the signs as they appeared. In June, this student failed a test in his PHD program and soon after dropped out of school. Was he exhibiting signs of psychosis that clouded his mind which contributed to this failure, or did this failure trigger this violent outburst? Since it is known that he was already in the planning stages of this murderous spree, it is most probable that he was already exhibiting signs of emotional disturbances, but many people around him in school would have missed it. The main reason for that is a lack of awareness of the warning signs.
     His family has not commented on this case, except through a family attorney, but hopefully they will in the future. They can be a reliable source for exactly where this young man’s downfall began.
     There is additional information worth adding here. In Colorado, the number of mental health beds has decreased since 2005 by an eye-opening 33%, nearly two and a half times the U.S. average. Again, we still do not have a diagnosis on James Holmes, but if, in fact, he had one, there may have been seriously limited resources of help available for him. Even in his home state of California, which boasts openness and tolerance, while providing for their citizens, they reduced their inpatient beds by 16% during the same time frame. This in spite of a mental health tax put in place several years ago.
     Many of us have learned that the real insanity is not the people who are sick, it is the system! Not surprisingly, the political leaders who can change it are the ones who turn a blind eye to this problem until they can obtain an instant headline out it. It is a system that sits back helplessly while these types of atrocities occur. It is one where kids either jump off bridges or stand in front of moving trains as their only escape from pain, because they cannot find the appropriate treatment. I know as I have written an immense deal about all of these types of tragedies.
     There is a reason for people in the mental health field to become cynical, and the reduction in mental health care is the culprit. Every time a disaster likes this one occurs, politicians rally around people with promises for change. Now they are deflecting from root causes and calling for gun control among other publicity seeking, but visceral solutions. In reality, there is little ambition to correct the broken mental health system. Mainly, because a large percentage of the populace is unaware of just how dire the situation has become.
     Over the next few months our elected officials, like everyone else, will witness the initiative of promised actions for change wane from the public view, and be forgotten. Instead of real solutions, society will again become more infatuated with the talentless and shallow Kardashians, and which one is sleeping with whom while divorcing another. The desire to making positive changes ensuring readily available treatment for people in need will become a forgotten footnote to the general population, until the next tragedy occurs.
     After the Tucson shootings, there was a call for a “National Dialog on Mental illness”, and to date, that has not occurred nor is it likely to in the future. If we sincerely wish to alter the negative trends with those afflicted, increased suicide, increased disability in the workplace, more police encounters and tragedies like this the ones mentioned; many of us have a straightforward answer to everyone. Open your eyes, become more educated, and begin to force our political leaders to make treatment more accessible, and for civil commitment laws to be modernized. Otherwise, history will continue to repeat itself!    

Friday, July 20, 2012

Elyria Police;Suicide by cop...sad, but common

     This past Sunday a tragedy ensued in Elyria, which left a seemingly disturbed man dead and his family asking questions on how it was handled by the local police.
     Though all the facts are not yet known, this much is; On Sunday July 15th, William King called the dispatch center for the city of Elyria and told the dispatcher that he had killed his wife. At that point, the police were notified, and numerous officers were sent out to his residence. Once there, they seem to have attempted to communicate with Mr. King. His response was to exit his home holding a gun to his head.  At some point, he reportedly pointed his weapon at the police and they responded by discharging their weapons and mortally wounding him.
     Within a short time, family members came forward to denounce the Elyria Police Department’s handling of the situation. In fact, in a recent article, his brother Walter King was openly critical of their actions because he felt that since there were at least eight shots fired, the police were fairly aggressive in this approach.  He felt that his brother “didn’t deserve what he got!” He also went on to argue that this was not a suicide by cop.
     There are other critical comments that seemed to be overshadowed here. In the same article, Mr. King admits that his brother “had a little bit of problems,” but he did not elaborate or volunteer what he meant by that. He did go on and acknowledge that William King was a “bit down with his disease,” as he admitted that he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver.
     Though it is strictly conjecture, it would not be a stretch to conclude mental health issues played a role in this tragic death. Mr. King called the police and falsely said he had killed his wife, who it turns out was not even home at the time. He then exited his house with a gun pointed at his head. At this time, the police were witnessing the actions of someone who is “not” thinking clearly and rationally. Additionally, there is little doubt that a disease such as cirrhosis of the liver can dramatically alter your thought process. It is reasonable to believe that anyone suffering from a terminal illness would be particularly prone to depression and morbid thoughts. It must be added, that people with liver disease do at times suffer periods of confusion because their liver cannot dispel toxins properly throughout their body.  Add to this stress the painful symptoms of this illness, and it is little wonder that anyone suffering would have a difficult time keeping themselves from getting desperate.
     Personally, I can understand his brother being angry and wanting to blame the police. I am certain Mr. King was the good person as he described by him. When something catastrophic occurs people want justice and with none in sight, they will at times project some misguided blame. It appears that is what is occurring in this case.
     First and foremost, to say this was not suicide by cop is just not fair to the police officers on the scene. According to a study published in the Journal of Forensic Science, this type of suicide is one that is estimated to occur in over a third of all officer involved shootings that arise in this country. It leaves both the family and the police officers involved shaken and asking themselves if it could have been avoided. Sadly, like many suicides, once the person reaches that level of desperation it is difficult to prevent this lonely and misunderstood death.
     In the past, I suffered from severe mental illness and attempted to end my life, and only dumb luck saved me. Today I spend a vast amount of time working with law enforcement officers, assisting them in dealing with people in similar crises. This work gives me a unique perspective on these challenges. In classroom settings, I encourage police officers to defuse tense situations, but never forget, always to protect themselves first.  My primary goal is get the afflicted person some much needed help, and for the officer to go home safely to their family. 
     Though all the facts are not yet known, there are enough known to draw valid conclusions. Based on what occurred and my experience, I strongly believe that this was a suicide by cop, brought on by his illness. Clear thinking individuals do not call the police with the knowledge that it would result in an aggressive law enforcement response without a clear goal in mind. No one but Mr. King himself knows as to whether he wanted to die or wanted his suffering to end, but his actions spoke volumes.
     Addressing the topic of Mr. King’s brother with regards to the number of shots fired, one thing must be remembered. Once he pointed that weapon all the officers at the scene reacted with the impression that he could have shot at them personally. One thing is clear; Mr. King left these officers no options, but the one they choose.
     I am hoping that in time that his brother and the rest of his family can find peace and understanding about what occurred.  No one on this department wanted this ending. It was just a situation that could not be avoided. This man was suffering with a disease that in its end stage is quite painful and that could have been a contributing factor in this tragic outcome. I also hope the police officers involved can come to the realization and understand that they did nothing wrong. They were only doing their jobs and the outcome was unavoidable.
     The Elyria Police, have proven to me on more the one occasion to be a fine department, striving to do the right thing. This has not always been the case. However, in the past several years, many positive changes have taken place within the department which warrants both recognition and the citizens giving the department “the benefit of the doubt” with situations such as this.  
     The Lorain County Sheriff’s department is investigating this case. Though this department made some crucial mistakes in a tragic circumstance in Lagrange last winter which led to a deputy being wounded by friendly fire, and one man dead, I believe the actions of the Elyria Police will stand on its own merit.
    After reading some comments from the public on this tragedy, I must add a personal observation and hope my point is made clear! William King was not a criminal. William King was a man who was sick. He and his family deserve respect, compassion and sympathy from everyone. For those who have mocked his death, I urge you to remember one thing and never forget it. Anyone can get sick. Anyone can become suicidal. Any one of us could end up attempting to take our own life. If you are one of the fortunate that have never had to experience so much pain that drives you to end their life, I have some advice. Say a prayer of thanks for that blessing each and every day of your life. I know and knew many people who wish they had your good fortune!