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Could Arizona shooting have been prevented?

2011-01-10 5
   
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résuméWASHINGTON Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old Arizona man charged with killing six people and injuring 12 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, clearly scared more than a few people. Instructors at his college, as well as friends
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Could Arizona shooting have been prevented?


WASHINGTON Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old Arizona man charged with killing six people and injuring 12 others, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, clearly scared more than a few people.

Instructors at his college, as well as friends and neighbors, have said they expressed concerns about Loughner's behavior in the months before he opened fire at a gathering at a Tucson shopping mall on Saturday.

Could Loughner have been stopped? Psychiatrists see several problems: a lack of resources for mental health services in the United States, ignorance about mental illness and a society that opposes the idea of forcibly treating people.

"We can't lock people up for being troubling," said Dr. Victor Schwartz, a specialist in campus mental health and dean of students at Yeshiva University in New York.

"While his behavior seemed to be disturbing, there is not any indication (he posed) a direct or imminent danger. One thing that will come up -- are mentally ill folks more violent because of mental illness and the answer is no."

Pima Community College said on its website that Loughner withdrew in October after being suspended, saying he had "five contacts" with campus police.

"A follow-up letter was sent to him October 7, 2010, indicating that if he intends to return to the College, he must resolve his Code of Conduct violations and obtain a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others," the statement reads.

It is not clear whether Loughner sought treatment, but several experts said many people his age go untreated for mental illness.

MENTAL HEALTH GAP

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 20 percent of U.S. youths are affected at some point in their lives by serious mental disorders.

But only 36 percent of mentally troubled youth get professional services, and 60 percent of them are treated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"Nationwide, the mental health care system is broken. Arizona, like other states, has deeply cut mental health services," the National Alliance on Mental Illness said in a statement.

"Arizona has a broad civil commitment law to require treatment if it is needed; however, the law cannot work if an evaluation is never conducted or mental health services are not available."

Dr. Alexander Young of the University of California Los Angeles said some descriptions of Loughner's behavior indicate psychosis, although he stressed he had no first-hand knowledge of the case.

"People with psychotic diseases often do not get treated until years into having problems," Young said in a telephone interview.

A few recent cases have made international headlines -- the 2007 case of Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho, who killed himself and 32 others despite having been judged an "imminent danger," and the 1999 case of two boys who killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

"These are rare occurrences but on the other hand, in many cases, services are unavailable and there is a lack of education about how to get the services and what mental illness is," said Michael Fitzpatrick of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Schwartz noted many community mental health centers are funded by Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance plan.

"The community system, they do a very good job but the resources are limited," he said. "We all know that most states are cutting their Medicaid budgets right now and one of the first things that people look at is mental health."

(Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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