Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mental Health Issues

The Virginia Tech shooter had mental health issues, and it's a media firestorm. I'm going to throw my 1.5 cents in.
First, some background: I was a mental health counselor for 14 years (yeah, since I gave up mental health I'm feeling much better). My degree is in community mental health, and as a crises counselor I was involved in many involuntary treatment situations.
There's a huge debate in mental health treatment regarding civil rights and when a person can be forced into treatment. The legal standard of "danger to self or others" is subject to interpretation and often hard to determine. For example, I as a counselor could be fairly certain that a client was suicidal based on their case history, but if the client denied being suicidal I would not be able to get them hospitalized against there will. Sometimes civil rights come with risks.
People with mental illness are no more (or less) dangerous than the rest of the population, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. And mental health workers are not prescient. There is no way to know what someone might do in the future.
I will also point out that mental health is grossly underfunded. Even if the young man went to counseling, I doubt that what would be available would be adequate.
Could this tragedy have been prevented? I'm doubtful. But I would hate to see this become an excuse to stigmatize and oppress people with mental illness.


Anonymous said...

There is some question whether he was on some type of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, these SSRI medications are given for depression and have apparently been correlated with violent psychoses in the past, including the Columbine shooters.

pygalgia said...

I'll withold any judgement on that, as SSRI's are a whole other issue. I've seen medications over-perscribed, or perscribed without proper monitoring and follow up. But I don't know enough details to say whether SSRI's were a factor.