Arizona shooting a tragic reminder of dangers of mental illness

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by Meg Farris / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on January 10, 2011 at 11:15 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- People who knew Jared Lee Loughner in school have been reporting that they were concerned about his behavior. Some doctors have even speculated that his behavior was consistent with paranoid schizophrenia.

So how can mass shootings, such as the one in Arizona, be prevented?

As people ask "Why?" when it comes to mass shootings such as the one that happened Saturday in Arizona, the questions surrounding mental illness are at the top of the public conversation.

Dr. Howard Osofsky is head of the Department of Psychiatry at LSU Health Sciences Center. He has never evaluated or treated the alleged gunman in the Arizona mass shooting spree, but learning the facts about illnesses and chemical imbalances of the brain could help us prevent another tragedy.

"He is at an age when mental illness can become more prevalent, people as young adults, it's the most common time for people to develop major mental illness such as schizophrenia," said Osofsky.

He said parents should look for impulsive or aggressive behavior, cruel acts, out of control behavior, anger and outrages, anti-social behavior and changes in school performance, relationships, or personality, such as becoming more isolated, disruptive, and engaging in abnormal acts.

Friends and Internet use should be monitored. When there are problems, a mental health expert should be consulted early on.

"It is important to try and see if one can help them get medical, mental health treatment and because it can be effective in some cases. It's not effective in all, there are some people with anti-social disorders who are fixed, not only in destructive types of thinking, but especially with anti-social personality disorders who don't show remorse," he explained.

The alleged Arizona shooter admitted to frequent use of marijuana. College friends are on record talking about excessive alcohol use. Doctors say use of mind altering drugs are to be taken seriously.

"People who use marijuana, and use it frequently and in high amounts, are more likely to develop mental illness. Part of the question that remains unanswered, is whether they are predisposed to mental illness and this is reason they are using more marijuana or drinking more, or is it the marijuana itself?" said Osofsky.

While studies show that most people with mental illness do not kill someone, Osofsky says there are more students in colleges who have been diagnosed with brain disorders. That's because doctors have become better at helping people to balance brain chemistry and function better.

But still, here in New Orleans and elsewhere, treatment services are lacking.

"Services need to be improved. That's one of the things that came out of Virginia Tech (mass shooting in April 2007). And some of my close colleagues were involved in improving the services there," he said.

After big public shootings, such as Ronald Reagan, John Lennon, Virginia Tech, and even here in New Orleans where a police officer was killed in 2008, there is always talk afterward of an untreated brain disorder or mental illness. In fact, Osofsky said some inmates he's evaluated in Angola weren't even aware they had committed a crime because their brains were so sick.

And while people in terrorism groups can be inflamed by the group teachings, he said people who already have delusional thoughts are going to act out on their own.

"It's unlikely that just being exposed to television or to blogging is going to have someone go off and kill," Osofsky said regarding all the national talk about accusing political groups of influencing the shooting in Arizona.

Mental health professionals and members of the police crisis units have been saying for years now that budget cuts have caused a severe shortage to local mental health services and treatment.

 

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