Connecticut school shooting prompts discussions on mental health

FamilyMedicaidSandy Hook Elementary School ShootingAdam Lanza

The tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn. is prompting new discussions on how to properly handle the issue of mental illness among young people.

People around the nation read a widely circulated essay titled "I am Adam Lanza's mom."  Blogger Liza Long described her own experience of living in fear of her mentally ill 13-year-old son.

"I live with a son who is mentally ill," Long wrote.  "I love my son. But he terrifies me."

The essay goes on to describe Long's account of her son threatening to kill her with a knife and later promising revenge after being sent to a mental hospital. The writer says she needs help and fears that her son could turn to deadly violence someday.

Central Indiana experts say such cases of violence are rare, but the exhausting ordeal of living with such trouble is not.

"Human beings are inherently unpredictable, and potentially aggressive," said Dr. Alan Schmetzer, of the IU Health Neuroscience Center.

Dr. Schmetzer says it's impossible to know if mental illness drove the Connecticut school shooter to kill his mother, then 26 others including 20 children. But if it did, he hopes it will prompt a new national dialogue on how to properly address children who suffer from mental instability.

Noblesville mother, Mayme Horine, can speak from experience. Four of her children are on the Autism spectrum.  Two of them are also diagnosed Bipolar.

Mayme and her family went through a long struggle to get the proper care and medication to stabilize their home.  One of her daughters was in especially bad shape a few years ago.

"We struggled for months to find qualified and knowlegable help," Horine wrote to Fox59.   "We finally ended up with her inpatient at Cincinnati Children's Hospital."

However, Horine says she knows of other parents who still live in fear of their own children; parents who are afraid to go to sleep at night out of fear of their own child's unpredictable, violent outbursts. She also says too many people with mental illness end up in Indiana prisons because their problems have not been properly assessed and addressed.

Dr. Schmetzer says many parents of mentally ill children simply don't know of the services available.  He believes a better discussion of the issue could include more public education about the help that is out there.

"Research shows that the more psychiatric services are available in the community and easily available, the more people go get them, and the fewer things like this happen," Dr. Schmetzer said.

Mayme also believes there needs to be a structural change in the healthcare industry.

"Our Medicaid system doesn't treat mental illness as a medical condition, so psychiatrists don't get paid enough," she said.  "And the good ones don't take Medicaid, they can't survive on it.'

Both Mayme and Dr. Schmetzer agree the first step in improving mental health treatment is a vigorous discussion. Such a discussion could be a major eye-opener to a lot of us.
"We haven't talked about it enough," Dr. Schmetzer said.  "And when we do, it's usually something awful that's happened.  And then it's the very worst of situations that tend to be discussed."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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