09 January 2011

Tucson shooting suspect's possible schizophrenia

I am deeply shocked and saddened as I know many of you are by the news of the senseless shooting that happened in Tucson.

As a resident of Chandler, Ariz., I also found that the incident hit a little too close to home; so, admittedly, I was quick (as many others were) to turn to news reports that offered possible reasons for the heinous act -- politics of the day often pointed out as a motive.

After all, Jared Loughner did target a congresswoman and his Web rantings did wreak of politics. Also, Loughner listed several political books among his favorite reads including Mein Kampf, Animal Farm, and The Communist Manifesto.

However, one book not as often mentioned by the media that caught my eye was this one: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest -- this novel, by Ken Kesey, is one I think reveals more about Loughner than the others.

In short, here's the novel's plot: the setting is a mental hospital, and the tale (in a nutshell) is of a "sane" patient, McMurphy, who has a skewed sense that he has entered a world of psychological control, one that he must escape whatever the cost.

After a failed attempt at freedom and the death of his friend, McMurphy finally takes matters into his own hands, and attacks the "Big Nurse" who symbolically represents all the oppression and brainwashing. It's a kind of suicide act, which eventually has him paying the ultimate price when he is given a lobotomy.

I'm reminded of McMurphy when I read Loughner's disconnected comments in a YouTube video he made before the incident about an imagined fear that the government is "implying mind control and brain wash" of the people, controlling their "grammar structure", and tricking them into believing lies about the U.S. flag.

I'm also reminded of schizophrenia. I'm no psychologist, so a thorough diagnosis is obviously warranted, but I've had the experience of having a person close to me be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and witnessed first-hand the irrational fears they have of the world.

So to me, it appears that Loughner exhibits classic signs of this mental disorder, and that he may have a delusion, or an abnormal interpretation of reality, where the U.S. is one big Cuckoo's nest.

Loughner may have acted in what appears to have been politically motivated, but I think we need to think deeper, and it may serve us all to cease from pointing fingers at political rhetoric (although I agree it should be toned down). Let's look at what's really going on here: mental illness. Loughner did something sick, because he is sick.

What should really be part of our conversation today is how we as a society can do a better job at recognizing the signs of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and how we can best provide care and treatment to those that suffer from it.

Schizophrenia affects around 2.2 million people in the U.S. alone. Proper diagnosis must be performed by a qualified individual, but we should all at least be somewhat aware of what symptoms to look for and here they are from WebMD:

- Social withdrawal
- Depersonalization
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of hygiene
- Delusions
- Hallucinations
- The sense of being controlled by outside forces

At times, schizophrenia can lead sufferers to behave psychotically, become depressed, cause self-harm, make threats of suicide or violence, commit suicide or acts of violence. The risk of violence from a person with schizophrenia is small, but it can become greater with substance abuse.

We need to spread the message: people who think someone they know someone that may have one or more symptoms of schizophrenia, or know someone with the disorder who has discussed suicide or violence, should help them receive medical care immediately.

In ending this post, I'll just say that my thoughts are with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- who I just learned may have a chance at recovery despite a bullet through her brain -- as well as with the thirteen people who were injured, and the families of the six people who died.

2 comments:

RJinNC said...

I couldn't agree with you more and am disappointed and saddened that no one on the news programs has either brought it up or interviewed anyone who would be able to discuss schizophrenia and how at this age is when it appears in young men. Clearly this young man is mentally ill and has been suffering for the past few years. It's so sad that no one got him the help he needed early on but instead let him spiral downwards into a psychotic and scary world where he lost all sense of reality. It's so easy to judge and blame and name call, but this society does little to help the mentally ill. They are left with few resources, out on the streets instead of in hospitals that can keep them safe and within walls so that the rest of society is safe. It seems no one addresses the problem of the lack of services and treatment for the mentally ill until a mentally ill person does some horrific act and then everyone is outraged. This is a sad, sick and out of control individual who desperately needs help. It may be too late for him, it certainly is too late for those he murdered.

David Despain said...

Thank you for your comment @RJinC. It is sad. The fact is that millions of families suffer because of problems with mental illness. It's time that we make it part of the conversation. How to help these families in need.