. . . the right care at the right time

Identifying the next mass murderer

By Kevin Sendi, Executive Director, New Oakland

Amid the hysteria created by the Newtown massacre, there was an immediate demand to develop a plan to prevent future mass tragedies. Two answers rung loudly. The first was to raise the ante against the NRA and the gun manufacturers, and the second was the need for early intervention of young people suffering mentally illness. Adam Lanza was insane and should not have had access to a weapon of mass carnage.

The NRA has a powerful lobby with its hooks in both political parties. Their answer was to blame violent video games and, rather than eliminate assault rifles, they suggested arming teachers and school guards with similar weapons.

The psychiatric community also chimed in. Robert Levy of the Cato Institute, a nonpartisan think tank of scholars and analysts told the New York Times, “To reduce the risk of multi-victim violence, we would be better advised to focus on early detection and treatment of mental illness.

This is what we do at New Oakland. We identify and treat the spectrum of child-adolescent mental health issues. Unfortunately, as with changing the NRAs influence and philosophy, we also say, “Good luck with early identification of those prone to violence.”

The National Institute of Mental Health followed 18,000 subjects and found that the prevalence to violence occurred in 16% of people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. For people without mental disorders, it’s 7%. In fact, people with no mental disorder that abuse alcohol and drugs were 7 times more likely to commit violent acts than those that didn’t.

Between 2001 and 2010 there were nearly 120,000 gun related homicides in America and a small percentage were committed by people with mental illness.
Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke says, “We can’t reliably predict violence, let alone a mass shooting. You can profile the perpetrators after the fact and get a description of troubled young men, which also matches the description of thousands of other troubled young men who would never do something like this.”

We are not discouraging early detection. All mental illness demands and deserves early detection and treatment. In fact, because of the crushing lack of public and private funding, we treat many young people who can’t even afford to pay for the services they so badly need.

My father and New Oakland founder, Dr. Sendi explains it this way: “One of our many goals is to identify the next Adam Lanza or James Holmes and to act decisively when necessary. Psychiatric hospitalization is the best way to protect an individual from himself. But, in Michigan, like many other states, there are too few beds for adolescents and young adults and insurance companies limit the length of stay. After the arduous process of arranging a hospitalization, many adolescents are discharged within a week.”

Dr. Sendi developed New Oakland for the express purpose of filling the critical gap created by the closing of most of our state and community facilities. We treat thousands of mentally ill young people and are proud of our many success stories.

Sadly, the vast majority of homicides are carried out by outwardly normal people who, in the throes of ordinary human aggression, gain access to assault rifles. After all, although Newtown shocked us so terribly, the fact remains that 35 children are murdered every week in America by one of the 300 million guns in the US, like the ones owned by Adam Lanza’s murdered mother, Nancy.