We are saddened by the events in Newtown, CT. The deaths of 20 children dealt a blow unlike any previous situation in our country. The acts of heroism committed by the six teachers who died were unbelievable.
In the wake of the events in Newtown, there have been calls for new gun laws. Should individuals be entitled to carry assault weapons? Should clips of 30 or more bullets be outlawed? Should there be semi-automatic weapons in the hands of average citizens which shoot a 30-round clip in about 10 seconds? Should there be weapons in a family where one of its members has significant mental health problems? These are some of the questions which have emerged in the aftermath of Newtown. We expect there to be quite a debate on gun control after Newtown.
But, what about the mental health issues which arise in the aftermath of Newtown? How was an individual with obvious mental health issues able to carry out the actions of that fateful day? Were there mental health services available to the mother? How did this individual escape the attention of authorities? Was the mother all alone in her efforts to assist her son? How can we prevent a re-occurrence of these tragic events?
We will face an all-out discussion about the gun control issues and about the mental health issues involved with Newtown. As President Obama said at the multi-faith memorial service, we simply cannot have this event occur again.
We may not want a repetition of the events in Newtown, but I have a case at the present time which greatly resembles the Newtown case in the kind of danger presented.
I have a case involving a 22 year old who has made active threats against his mother, to the point where she fears for her life. The last threats were made with the police present, resulting in a forced hospitalization. This represents the eighth time in the past year that there was a forced hospitalization of this 22 year old young man. Each time, he gets hospitalized, he takes the medications which are prescribed. With the medications, he gets stabilized. Then he gets released. As soon as he is discharged, he stops taking his medications, as he claims he really does not need them. He then accuses his mother of having taken away his freedom by getting him hospitalized. He gets agitated. He threatens his mother, but also threatens all who around him. He actually has attacked his mother, but she has been rescued by those around her. He cannot live with anyone, having attempted to live in half-way homes as well as residential substance abuse settings. He becomes homeless. He comes to attack his mother, leading once again to a hospitalization. This happens every two to three weeks.
The father has written a letter to try to stop these “revolving” hospitalizations. He reasons that he has been repeatedly hospitalized and released, each time refusing to take his medications. If released, he will just stop taking his medications again. He will come after his mother. The father reasons, declare the young man as needed a conservatorship, to be conserved and maintained in a hospital setting until he improves.
But the psychiatrists treat each hospitalization as a separate event. The boy starts out in the lowest program as he begins to take medication. He gradually improves, and he is upped to the next higher level. As he continues to take his medication, he improves some more, convincing the psychiatrists that he is ready for discharge. No psychiatrist is willing to go to court on the family’s behalf. No psychiatrist is willing to go out on a limb to get a conservatorship. The young man then is released, to repeat the pattern all over again.
The family is left with one option: File a complaint with the police regarding the making of “terrorist threats” against the young man. But what if the boy is able to convince the police that he was not really serious and the police merely issue a warning. Or, if the police arrest the young man and he is later freed. He will have even more anger against the parents, leading to who knows what.
Here is a case where we know of a danger that a young man represents. He has actually gone and attacked his mother. He has threatened others. Yet, he is about to be released. He will be free to torment his mother, at best, and at worst, actually attack and kill her and others.
We live in a difficult time. Steps taken to prevent abuses in hospitalization marked the eighties and nineties. There were fears of individuals losing their freedom with hospitalizations. But in these difficult times, do we not need protections against innocent families and others? Do we not need to protect those whose are threatened and actually harmed?
Can we afford in this age of mass murders to free a potential murderer? Don’t we need to protect the rights of the innocent against one who makes such threats and actually seeks to harm his mother? Do we have to wait to see another Newtown, or worse?
It is time that we stop this nonsense. How many hospitalizations need occur before the system recognizes the danger that exists? How many times does a parent have to be threatened, and actually attacked, before the system will respond? There are simply no rights of a parent in regard to a son who has reached his 18th birthday. The parent must handle all of the danger presented without anyone protecting him or her.
We talk of not repeating Newtown. But we allow event after event to occur where we can see the potential for a repeat of the tragedy of Newtown.
We must get serious. We must stop playing games. We have to weigh the rights of the accused with the rights of a nation that has long been victimized. And we have to opt for the protection of the threatened.
Here we have a danger presenting itself clearly and definitely. We can’t tolerate the danger of another Newtown. Yet, all the rules of our society do nothing to prevent such a recurrence.
When we will get serious?
Robert J. Rome, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Encino, California. He can be reached at RJRome@aol.com.