Sunday, January 6, 2013

Violence and the mentally ill.

 Jack Pinto and Noah Ponzer, who were victims
of a recent shooting in Conneticut, USA,

Copyright, all rights reserved, 2013
I was once asked, "Would you please assess the calligraphy writer?"

In light of the horrible tragedy that happened in Connecticut, I feel that it is necessary to make some comments about the subject of the mentally ill and violence.
I had worked many years for a non-profit mental health agency as  a clinical case manger. I was part of a multidisciplinary team that consisted of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and psychiatric nurses.
Threats were being made to the women who worked at the agency.
I was once asked by my clinical director to assess a man who had been writing letters in calligraphy describing how he was going to rape torture and kill the women who worked at the agency. The suspect was too smart to make specific threats and the safety committee which had very little experience felt that he was not a danger to the agency.
I was waiting for him to make a mistake and make more specific threats. Most states make it possible to petition the court for involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital if  the subject is a danger to self or others or can not take care of his basic needs.
As a mental health professional, my knowledge of the client that I was seeking to admit to the hospital had to have been  first hand knowledge, not hear-say.  Also, as a mental health professional, our state had a "duty to warn," that is, we had to warn the person in danger and tell them someone made a specific threat against them.  In ten years I only had this happen about three times and each time I telephoned the individuals and warned them of the threats. 
Something unusual happened in the case involving this "calligraphy writer." My wife and I were
working for a Christian organization to the homeless and the above mentioned man was part of a Bible Study. I was teaching this group in the apartment mezzanine where he and many other mentally ill persons lived. Two of our children were also coming with us to this study.

I went to the FBI because my wife was mentioned in the notes
As I kept getting these notes, one made me alarmed and worried.  This man had made some remarks in his calligraphy writings about my wife. The way he described the focus of his attention was very obvious to be Robyn. I could tell by the physical attributes he described and also by the way he highlighted her temperament.
At the time, although it may sound funny, I was watching the FBI Files every week on the television. I knew that there was a FBI office in our city, so I took the calligraphy notes to them and asked if I could see an agent. I explained to the receptionist why I was there.
An FBI agent came into the reception area and told me that he could only take the notes if he charged the man with a crime.  He then said, as a courtesy because my wife was mentioned in the notes he would advise me as to what he felt should be done.   I handed him the notes and he said, "I believe this man is very dangerous.  Your wife must be careful to not be too friendly or he will think that she is coming on to him."  He also said that she "must not be fearful or he would interpret fear as a weakness and thus become his prey."
Well so much for the safety committee.  I had already warned my wife and children to never be alone with this man.  I repeated the caution to them and I continued on at work and at the Bible Study.

He crossed the line- involuntary commitment moves forward.
In a few days, the client was more specific towards the women at the agency.  I went to court and testified that he was psychotic, and a serious danger to others.  The judge accepted this and gave an order that he be picked up by the police for an involuntary confinement in a psychiatric hospital.
I then went to the police station and described him, told them where he lived, etc.  They picked him up and took him to the hospital. He was required to take anti-psychotic medications and after a couple of weeks he was stable and was discharged from the hospital. He came to me and apologized for what he had said in the letters and actually thanked me for intervening.  Now this brings me to my next point.

I know what it is like to lose a daughter and her baby.  In our case the weapon used to kill them was a car and the perpetrator was a drug addict who was shooting up heroin and also doing crack and marijuana while driving.  Our daughter Lindsay was eight months pregnant and she and her husband has already named their baby Emily Hope. Lindsay was hit head-on when she was driving  home from a prayer meeting held at our church, on the evening of September 11, 2001.
At the court hearing I kept saying over and over again, "We are going after the terrorists over there {in Afghanistan} but what about the terrorists on the roads here in America?"
Now, I would like to make a few comments in regard to the violent mentally ill.

1. The violent mentally ill are a statistical rarity. A recent writer with the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) said this,
"Is violence more common in people with SMI? Yes, during an episode of psychosis, especially psychosis associated with paranoia and so-called “command hallucinations”, the risk of violence is increased. People with SMI are up to three times more likely to be violent and when associated with substance abuse disorders, the risk may increase much further.i But, mental illness contributes very little to the overall rate of violence in the community. Most people with SMI are not violent, and most violent acts are not committed by people with SMI. In fact, people with SMI are actually at higher risk of being victims of violence than perpetrators. Teplin et al found that those with SMI are 11 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
The most common form of violence associated with mental illness is not against others, but rather, against oneself. In 2007, the most recent year for which we have statistics, there were almost 35,000 suicides, nearly twice the rate of homicides. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.Although it is not possible to know what prompted every suicide, it is safe to say that unrecognized, untreated mental illness is a leading culprit."

2. We should not wait until violence occurs to discuss the whole issue of mental illness.
People tend to care very little about the mentally ill until there is something newsworthy that may (or may not) involve a mentally ill person. Mental illness has become an accepted illness among many Americans. Obsta Principa or check the first symptoms is important when dealing with those of the mentally ill who indicate they may be violent.

3. PLEASE do not cause further suffering among the mentally ill because you somehow believe they are dangerous if they own a gun.
When was first depressed in 1985, I made the mistake of not getting treatment in a psychiatric hospital because I was afraid I would not be able to go pheasant and deer hunting.  I also had one occasion years later to brandish my shotgun to four criminals. They had come onto our property and were trying to extort money from my son and being abusive toward my wife.  I never pointed the gun at them. I was in my house when I racked a shell in the gun, and pointed it in the air and told them to get off my property.  They promptly did so without injury to either them or my family and I have never been psychotic.

4.  Mental health professional shoud do a risk assessment every time they treat a person who has suicidal and homicidal ideation.  Violence is not something you read about in the papers or see on the news.  It happens within a context of violence. If a duty to warn is warranted then it should be done.

5. Mentally ill people should be held accountable for their actions.

 I have seen psychotic grandmothers, take care of children in a safe and caring way. I have also dealt with cold hearted killers who were in the mental health system.  It is said alcohol and the mentally ill do not mix well. Our daughter Lindsay and grand daughter Emily Hope were killed by a drug addict.  He was charged with three 15-year felonies which run concurrently so the most he will serve is fifteen years. His behavior has been deplorable so he is still in prison but is married and has many rights and privileges that our daughter never had.

6.  What a horror for Newtown Connecticut!
I am thankful that the President is very concerned about these little ones. We should do more to protect them.

We must realize that the Lord Jesus Christ tells us in John 8:44:
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
We need to pray for revival in the land.  We need people filled with the Holy Spirit reaching out to others in their spheres telling them the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Please read more about mental illness in our book, Broken Minds Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You're Losing It. It is available in Kindle, e-book, etc. Please go to: