It seems that one of the working theories of why Adam Lanza went on a killing spree in the small town of Newtown, CT was that he feared being put into a psychiatric hospital against his wishes. Getting an adult (and even an underaged child) committed for reasons to do with mental health is very difficult thing to do.
What we don't know is if Adam was deteriorating even further that made it easier that a judge would consider conservatorship to his mother and allowing her to enter him into a hospital. Several friends of mom have said that they believed Adam was becoming harder and harder for her to handle on her own. It is also said that it was possible that she was going to relocate to the state of Washington where she located a school/treatment facility that would be able to help care for him.
As my regular readers know, I suffer from a mental illness; one thing I can be quite certain of, hospitalization is a scary prospect. It is something that I have had to deal with at times in my life. At moments I knew things were totally out of control and I couldn't continue on the path I was on. If I had stayed on that path I wouldn't be here right now. I know that with 100% certainty. I also know for 100% certainty that I, like most mentally ill, was not a danger to anyone else. Most behavior from mental illness is self-destructive, not violent. But, how does one tell the difference between the self-destructive and the potentially deadly? I am not even sure a doctor can do that.
I do believe that it is far too difficult to get a severely mentally ill person into treatment without their consent.
When I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. "If he's back in the system, they'll create a paper trail," he said. "That's the only way you're ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you've got charges."
I don't believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael's sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn't deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
The words from a mother of a mentally ill child who is at the end of her wits. She is struggling to find the right school, the right doctor, the cure. She has been unable to find them and her son is ill. She has to make a heart wrenching choice, jail her eldest child or take the chance that he be the next mass murderer when his rage rises to the surface. She has two younger children to consider, and of course her own safety. She has a "plan" that her two younger children follow if they see their big bro acting in a violent fashion. They run to the car and lock themselves in. I don't think that work as this now 12-year-old boy grows and becomes stronger.
We have to find a balance between the civil liberties of people like me and protecting the severely mentally ill from themselves and protecting society as well. We went way too far back in the 50's and 60's. We locked up people who had no real business being locked up. We had parents who were shuffling off children that were difficult to handle, but not mentally ill. Once you were put into this place, it was very hard to get out of. The movie Girl, Interrupted was based on a true story of young woman who spent 18 months in mental institution against her will. These things did happen. These hospitals were sometimes hell holes. Patients were sexually abused, raped, drugged, given severe medical treatments such as labotomies and shock treatments. We cannot go back to those days. But we went too far in the other direction. We have made almost impossible to get any treatment until they hurt themselves or someone else. By then, it usually already too late. The laws are far too restrictive.
There are no easy answers and finding the proper balance between the needs of a civil and moral society and the rights of the individual is not going to be easy. But we must try.