Placing Blame

January/12/2011 16:05PM
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It’s a strange society we live in today. one where journalists today must find somewhere to place blame for every illegal act committed. I have a suggestion. Look in the mirror.

Watching the coverage of the Tucson tragedy is a case study in that. One of the perpetrator’s demented ramblings on his Internet communications said, “I’ll be on the National news.”

One evening last week on the local news in Arizona the first six lead stories had to do with local violence in Phoenix. Since the tragedy, that same station has run story after story citing the heated political rhetoric as a motivation for the shootings. Including the Tea Party and Sarah Palin for her cross sites work before the election showing the candidates who need to be voted out of office. And, the liberal gun laws in Arizona. No mention of the congresswoman, Giffords’ advocacy for gun rights or the fact that she had a gun permit.

People like the Tucson shooter, who suffer from serious mental issues, may have many triggers that push them into senseless violence. Is the problem the mental illness or whatever the trigger may have been. This shooter was very upset with the congresswoman based on a prior encounter. He was also very upset with the community college that asked him to get counseling before he could return to classes there. He could have just as easily done a Virginia Tech act there. There is no evidence that he listened to talk radio or watched or listened to news that included inflamed rhetoric.

But, one thing is sure. If he watched any news at all today he was exposed to coverage of excessive violence and the exposure the perpetrators got for their work. And, how quickly that coverage tried to find some root cause for those acts. A dysfunctional family, a broken home, an abusive home life, poverty, or any other situation that explains the behavior.

There is no mention of the hopelessness of today’s youth. No jobs, highest unemployment in that age group, or any of the other environmental problems created by a country in the throes of a deep recession. Is that not a potential trigger, if one needs to be found to cause one with a mental illness to explode.

George Will wrote an editorial that looked at past political assignations. In early assignations he quoted, the perpetrator was executed, not explained.

If you filled a room with mental health experts and asked each to explain what led the young man in Tucson to explode into irrational violence, you would get a whole lot of speculation and many different answers. Yet, the very media that might have been part of that trigger, with no mental health training, seems qualified to speculate on that trigger.

Here’s what half a room full wrote on AOL

“At 22, accused Arizona mass shooter Jared Loughner should have been in the prime of his life.

“But instead, the young man who has been described by teachers, classmates and friends as “seriously disturbed,” is behind bars on charges he gunned down six people in a supermarket parking lot and critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

While his age wouldn’t strike most as a risk factor for such behavior, the years between 18 and 25 are actually among the diciest psychologically — especially for men.

“Certainly that age range is the riskiest time for the development of psychotic disorders,” said AOL Health’s mental health expert Dr. Daniel Carlat. “If he did suffer from schizophrenia, for example, it would be entirely unsurprising that these symptoms would be worsening at this point in his life.”

University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Dr. Christos Ballas said part of the vulnerability of the 18 to 25 set stems from a selfish, angry world view that is typical for that age group.

“It’s a time where you’re full of a lot of rage and narcissism,” he told AOL Health, adding that some men experience these feelings up to the age of 30. “You haven’t lived enough of your life to know about the long-term consequences. You don’t have any markers.”

Numerous gunmen implicated in high-profile rampages have been young and in the same age demographic as Loughner — among them Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who was 23 when he killed 32 students and faculty in 2007 before turning the gun on himself; Mark David Chapman, who was 25 when he gunned down John Lennon in 1980; and Steven Kazmierczak, who was 27 when he opened fire at a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in 2008, killing five and injuring 18 before committing suicide.

As with Loughner, those men also had a history of mental illness and troubling behavior. But differentiating between what is normal for a person that age and what isn’t can sometimes be tricky, as many in this group will act rebelliously in one way or another.

“Generally, young adult males can become very passionate and angry about issues,” said Carlat, a psychiatrist with a practice in Massachusetts. “But when it gets to the point where the kinds of things they are saying are just not making sense and appear to be bizarre to a reasonable observer, I think that’s the dividing line between normal and pathological, psychotic behavior.”

Warning signs of schizophrenia and other forms of psychosis include incoherent or rambling rants and writings, delusions of grandeur, paranoia, thoughts of violence or suicide, erratic and aggressive behavior, hallucinations, severe depression, extreme mood swings, drug or alcohol abuse, and acting out or running away.

Yet even if such signs are clearly observed, as in the case of Loughner — who reportedly was acting so bizarrely that even friends who shared his extremist political views were concerned, and a classmate kept a journal of his outbursts — it doesn’t automatically mean the person will do something dangerous.

“I can tell you he’s delusional, but I have no better sense of whether he’ll commit violence than you,” said Ballas, who also practices forensic psychiatry. “We don’t have anything about our training that lets us predict who is going to kill people or themselves. Anyone who says they can predict that is totally lying and is themselves delusional.”

Carlat said it’s relatively rare for schizophrenic and psychotic patients to turn violent, and even professionals can miss the signs.

“People who are paranoid and psychotic can become very, very aggressive — which is not something you would predict,” he said. “You can get fooled, even as a psychiatrist. At some point, it may turn in their brain that in order to prevent this from happening, they have to go out and commit violence, to get rid of the people they imagine are following them.”

Furthermore, added Ballas, even if the signs clearly point toward psychosis or another serious illness, doing anything about it under the current mental health laws is next to impossible, and forcing someone to undergo treatment is illegal.

“Everybody asks, ‘What are the warning signs?’ but that’s the wrong question,” he said. “Everyone around [Loughner] knew he was a little bit off. The question is, ‘What are we going to about it?’ Unless he hurts someone else or himself, you can’t do anything. That’s the law.”

But most types of psychosis can be managed with the right care.

“Chronic psychosis — the kind that doesn’t go away — can usually be treated with medication and therapy,” Carlat said.

Those who notice the warning signs in someone they know should try to coax the person into seeing a psychiatrist in order to get the appropriate diagnosis, medication and therapy. Alerting the troubled youth’s family, friends, classmates, coworkers and others associated with him may be in order if he refuses to get help. If all else fails, notifying mental health professionals and the authorities might be necessary.”

End of Quotes.

It seems the only places where action could have been taken to eliminate the event from happening are in the home, the community college, or at the scene. If the parents had insisted on help, maybe help might have prevented the situation. If the community college had notified both the home and the authorities, maybe there would have been an intervention. Or, if someone else in the crowd had been armed, which is not just possible, but probable in Arizona, a gun rather than a tackle could have mitigated the damage.

Those seem to be common sense thoughts about the sad violence and so much loss of life and suffering to so many. But, we live in a time when common sense is set aside and every effort is made to find blame where media ideology wants to find the answer. But, God forbid, never, never look to media itself as part of the problem. There job is to brainwash the public, not report. They are reaching way too far in this situation.

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