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Sunday, July 29, 2012

U.S. Media is Missing The Point; Our Mental Health System is Broken.


In the early morning hours of 7/20, a mentally ill young man enrolled at The University of Colorado kills 12 (now 13 with a miscarriage) and wounds 52 in an Aurora Colorado movie theater.  

On January 8th of 2011 a shooter killed six people, including Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. The shooting also left 14 others injured, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Gifford's. He has been indicted on 49 counts by federal grand juries in Arizona.  The mentally ill man charged in the Tucson shooting rampage isn't expected to go to trial in 2012 as he continues to be forcibly medicated to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.

On April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia a lone shooter shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart, before committing suicide. The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.

All these shooters should have been stopped.  They were either current or recently enrolled students known to College officials as posing a danger to themselves or others.  The point here is that not only did someone know of these individuals and their illness's but that each College had threat assessment teams in place to evaluate students for just such actions.  The local Community College where the Arizona shooter previously attended school even went so far as to have the shooter barred from campus as a precaution.

These 3 epic failures of our mental health system in the past 5 years show us how bad things are.  Looking at the past 15 years, the United States has suffered 12 mass shootings that have claimed 262 people, including the Columbine tragedy.  262 innocent people targeted by mentally ill shooters means an average of 17 plus people are killed each year in the USA in mass shootings by known offenders with mental health issues.

Living just outside the boarders of Chicago, as I do, can make one apathetic to the numbers of shooting victims.  And 17 per year seems small by comparison but 17 per year is not small.  262 Victims of mass shootings is an outrage and something we could stop if the mental health system was functional.

In the three cases mentioned above, not only did mental health professionals know about these shooters before they claimed innocent lives but, school threat assessment teams knew as well and failed to stop them.  The U.S. press should be asking more about this issue. 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

University of Colorado Behavioral Evaluation Threat Assessment Team; Epic Failure.


James Holmes is in custody for allegedly killing 12 people and injuring 58 others when he opened fire in a packed midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora Colorado.  Dressed in full riot gear, Holmes allegedly entered from an emergency exit in the front right corner of the theater before releasing something that witnesses identify as tear gas or a smoke bomb. From there, he allegedly sprayed the sold-out theater with a storm of bullets, injuring and killing both adults and children.  Holmes, sporting hair dyed red, reportedly told arresting officers he was "The Joker" in apparent reference to a well known villain in the Batman series.

In a previous post, Someone Knew, I pointed out that the shooter was likely known to be having mental health problems.  Apparently his school did know and and he was in fact the patient of Dr. Lynne Fenton, Head of the Campus Mental Health Service and a member of the UC Campus Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team.

It is my hope that the fall-out from this epic fail of the mental health system will result in significant changes to both mental health law and procedures used when dealing with potentially dangerous mentally ill individuals.  While lawyers and the insurers for the University of Colorado will continue to close ranks and attempt to protect Dr. Fenton and the school from multiple civil actions, the truth is the system failed on an epic level, that options already existed to stop the shooter prior to the massacre and that we must make changes to protect society at large.  The truth is also that the shooter will be found not guilty by reason of insanity. 

Past history points out that persons suffering from long term and significant mental illness are no more likely than others to engage in homicidal actions or mass murders.  In fact persons with thought disorders and other mental illness are twice as likely to be victims of crimes and are disproportionately targeted for homicide themselves.

In the case of James Holmes however, had Dr. Fenton brought his name to the attention of campus police (we may eventually find she did) who were also part of that assessment team, a simple check of records would have shown that Holmes was buying weapons.  In Illinois, on any routine traffic stop, officers know almost immediately if the subject has had any previous stops or if their name has been run in computerized records and which town ran it, including when it was run.  The same ability exists in Colorado when a background check is done for a gun purchase and that information was certainly available for campus police to easily find.  At some point we'll know if the threat assessment team knew Holmes and whether his name was run for gun purchases.

In my work as a Police Psychologist it is routine to run checks for Firearm Owners Identification Cards (FOID Cards) on any individual whom I come in contact with for mental health reasons.  Even if no legal permission to own a weapon exists, we still contact family members and inquire about gun ownership or availability.  This one element of threat assessment is so crucial to the process that it is inconceivable to me that it was over-looked.  Not for one minute do I think Campus Police would have dropped this ball.  What I think was more likely is that Holmes's name was never brought up to the assessment team to begin with and that Dr. Fenton never realized the significance of the threat that James Homes presented.

In the final analysis we had a responsibility to the shooter who suffered from an identifiable mental illness and we had a responsibility to the victims of the Colorado Theater Massacre.  The responsibility was to protect all of them.  We (the mental health system) already knew that the shooter was ill.  What we did or failed to do, from that point on will eventually come outThose responsible for this epic failure should be responded to with all possible sanctions.  We simply cannot accept that the actions of mentally ill shooters such as Seung-Hui Cho (Virginai Tech), Jared Lee Loughner (Tuscan Arizona), Anders Behring Breivik (Norway), and James Homes (Aurora, Colorado) as an unstoppable fact of life.  All could have been stopped and should have been stopped.  The University of Colorado should be dealt with in the same fashion as Penn State, directly and painfully, so that no school thinks they can ever hide behind policy and procedures to the detriment of all.  They are responsible and failed in epic fashion.  

Why James Holmes, Colorado Theater Shooter Will Be Found Insane; Our System is Broken


James Holmes is in custody for allegedly killing 12 people and injuring 58 others when he opened fire in a packed midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora Colorado.  Dressed in full riot gear, Holmes allegedly entered from an emergency exit in the front right corner of the theater before releasing something that witnesses identify as tear gas or a smoke bomb. From there, he allegedly sprayed the sold-out theater with a storm of bullets, injuring and killing both adults and children.  Holmes, sporting hair dyed red, reportedly told arresting officers he was "The Joker" in apparent reference to a well known villain in the Batman series.

In a previous post, Someone Knew, I pointed out that the shooter was likely known to be having mental health problems.  Apparently his school did know and and he was in fact the patient of Dr. Lynne Fenton, Head of the Campus Mental Health Service and a member of the UC Campus Threat Assessment team.

It is my hope that the fall-out from this epic fail of the mental health system will result in significant changes to both mental health law and procedures used when dealing with potentially dangerous mentally ill individuals.  While lawyers and the insurers for the University of Colorado will continue to close ranks and attempt to protect Dr. Fenton and the school from multiple civil actions, the truth is the system failed on an epic level, that options already existed to stop the shooter prior to the massacre and that we must make changes to protect society at large.  The truth is also that the shooter will be found not guilty by reason of insanity. 

Past history points out that persons suffering from long term and significant mental illness are no more likely than others to engage in homicidal actions or mass murders.  In fact persons with thought disorders and other mental illness are twice as likely to be victims of crimes and are disproportionately targeted for homicide themselves.

In the case of James Holmes however, had Dr. Fenton brought his name to the attention of campus police (we may eventually find she did) who were also part of that assessment team, a simple check of records would have shown that Holmes was buying weapons.  In Illinois, on any routine traffic stop, officers know almost immediately if the subject has had any previous stops or if their name has been run in computerized records and which town ran it, including when it was run.  The same ability exists in Colorado when a background check is done for a gun purchase and that information was certainly available for campus police to easily find.  At some point we'll know if the threat assessment team knew Holmes and whether his name was run for gun purchases.

In my work as a Police Psychologist it is routine to run checks for Firearm Owners Identification Cards (FOID Cards) on any individual whom I come in contact with for mental health reasons.  Even if no legal permission to own a weapon exists, we still contact family members and inquire about gun ownership or availability.  This one element of threat assessment is so crucial to the process that it is inconceivable to me that it was over-looked.  Not for one minute do I think Campus Police would have dropped this ball.  What I think was more likely is that Holmes's name was never brought up to the assessment team to begin with and that Dr. Fenton never realized the significance of the threat that James Homes presented.

In the final analysis we had a responsibility to the shooter who suffered from an identifiable mental illness and we had a responsibility to the victims of the Colorado Theater Massacre.  The responsibility was to protect all of them.  We (the mental health system) already knew that the shooter was ill.  What we did or failed to do, from that point on will eventually come outThose responsible for this epic failure should be responded to with all possible sanctions.  We simply cannot accept that the actions of mentally ill shooters such as Seung-Hui Cho (Virginai Tech), Jared Lee Loughner (Tuscan Arizona), Anders Behring Breivik (Norway), and James Homes (Aurora, Colorado) as an unstoppable fact of life.  All could have been stopped and should have been stopped.  The University of Colorado should be dealt with in the same fashion as Penn State, directly and painfully, so that no school thinks they can ever hide behind policy and procedures to the detriment of all. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

James Holmes, Colorado Theater Shooter Will Be Found Insane.




The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting that took place on April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart, before committing suicide. (Another 6 people were injured escaping from classroom windows.) The massacre is the deadliest shooting incident by a single gunman in U.S. history.


Jared Lee Loughner is charged with the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011, that killed six people, including Chief U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. The shooting also left 14 others injured, including U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. He has been indicted on 49 counts by federal grand juries in Arizona.  The mentally ill man charged in the Tucson shooting rampage isn't expected to go to trial in 2012 as he continues to be forcibly medicated to make him psychologically fit to stand trial.

Norwegian Prosecutors on Thursday, June 21st 2012, asked a court to send confessed mass killer Anders Behring Breivik to a mental institution instead of prison for his massacre of 77 people in a gun and shooting rampage.  If the court comes to the same conclusion when it issues its ruling, expected next month, it would mean that Breivik would avoid criminal responsibility for Norway's worst peacetime massacre.  The attacks at Norway's government headquarters and a youth summer camp would then not be considered acts of political terrorism, but the work of a blood-thirsty madman. "We request that he is transferred to compulsory psychiatric care," prosecutor Svein Holden told the court in closing arguments. Though there was conclusive evidence that Breivik was psychotic during the July 22 attacks, there were enough doubts about his sanity that he cannot be sentenced to prison under Norwegian law, Holden said.



James Holmes is in custody for allegedly killing 12 people and injuring 58 others when he opened fire in a packed midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora Colorado.  Dressed in full riot gear, Holmes allegedly entered from an emergency exit in the front right corner of the theater before releasing something that witnesses identify as tear gas or a smoke bomb. From there, he allegedly sprayed the sold-out theater with a storm of bullets, injuring and killing both adults and children.  Holmes, sporting hair dyed red, reportedly told arresting officers he was "The Joker" in apparent reference to a well known villain in the Batman series.

Someone Knew


Daniela Quintanilla pointed out that “Within the last 15 years, the United States has suffered 12 mass shootings that have claimed 262 people, including the Columbine tragedy, the Virginia Tech massacre, and the shooting in Tuscon, Arizona that wounded Congressman Gabrielle Giffords.” 

What is Schizophrenia

Four states, including Kansas, Montana, Idaho, Utah, do not allow the insanity defense. In other states, the standards for proving this defense vary widely.  In Colorado the state uses a modified version of the M'Naghten Rule with the Irresistible Impulse Test. The burden of proof is on the state.

According to FindLaw, "In response to criticisms of the M'Naghten Rule, some legal commentators began to suggest expanding the definition of insanity to include more than a cognitive element. Such a test would encompass not only whether defendants know right from wrong but also whether they could control their impulses to commit wrong-doing. 

The Irresistible Impulse Test was first adopted by the Alabama Supreme Court in the 1887 case of Parsons v. State. The Alabama court stated that even though the defendant could tell right from wrong, he was subject to "the duress of such mental disease [that] he had ... lost the power to choose between right and wrong" and that "his free agency was at the time destroyed," and thus, "the alleged crime was so connected with such mental disease, in the relation of cause and effect, as to have been the product of it solely." In so finding, the court assigned responsibility for the crime to the mental illness despite the defendant's ability to distinguish right from wrong.

The Irresistible Impulse Test gained acceptance in various states as an appendage to the M'Naghten Rule, under which right versus wrong was still considered a vital part of any definition of insanity. In some cases, the Irresistible Impulse Test was considered to be a variation on M'Naghten; in others, it was considered to be a separate test. 

Though the Irresistible Impulse Test was considered to be an important corrective on M'Naghten's cognitive bias, it still came under some criticism of its own. For example, it seemed to make the definition of insanity too broad, failing to take into account the impossibility of determining which acts were uncontrollable rather than merely uncontrolled, and also making it easier to fake insanity. The test was also criticized for being too narrow; like M'Naghten, the test seemed to exclude all but those totally unable to control their actions. Nevertheless, several states currently use this test along with the M'Naghten Rule to determine insanity, and the American Law Institute in its Model Penal Code definition of insanity adopted a modified version of it" (Findlaw).

In everyday language the insanity defense is one in which, due to mental disease or defect, the individual is either unable to conform his/her behavior to legal standards or is unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his/her act.  In order to effectively use the insanity defense, the subject and his/her attorney needs to bracket the criminal behavior; to show they were insane prior to and just after the act itself.  The assumption then is that they were also insane at the time they committed the offense.

Their are multiple possibilities for the brackets and it would appear at the time of his arrest, James Holmes began that process when he told officers he was the villain from the batman series.  What remains to be seen is what evidence, if any, has been uncovered for the initial bracket.*  There are several possibilities there including the circumstances around which he was leaving graduate school.  If, as I believe, the school counseled him out of the program due to their belief that he was mentally unstable and needed help, then that bracket exists.


I feel for the Aurora Police Chief, Daniel Oates, who appears to want so badly to get a conviction and for the victims and their families of this horrific act.  Until such time as we make mental health laws equally protective of society and the individual, I fear these horrific acts will continue.

* Initial brackets may now be known.  According to reports from Fox News, "James Holmes, the accused gunman in last Friday's midnight movie massacre in Colorado, mailed a notebook "full of details about how he was going to kill people" to a University of Colorado psychiatrist before the attack, but the parcel sat unopened in a mailroom for as long as a week before its discovery Monday, a law enforcement source told FoxNews.com.
Police and FBI agents were called to the University of Colorado Anschutz medical campus in Aurora on Monday morning after the psychiatrist, who is also a professor at the school, reported receiving a package believed to be from the suspect. Although that package turned out to be from someone else and harmless, a search of the Campus Services' mailroom turned up another package sent to the psychiatrist with Holmes’ name in the return address, the source told FoxNews.com."

 





Billy Garrity Scholarship Fund

From some of the friends of Billy Garrity, the Northbrook young adult who tragically died this past June.  Won't you help?

Hello friends -

These past few weeks we have witnessed the amazing things that people can do when a goal is set to help others.  My friends and I are getting together to continue the compassionate acts that we have witnessed around Northbrook and have decided to help raise money to honor the late Billy Garrity.  Currently, the Garrity family and the principle of Glenbrook North, Paul Pryma, are setting up a scholarship fund in Billy's name.

This fundraiser is a way to help the scholarship fund get going.  We would love for everyone to please donate at least $31, which was Billy's favorite number, along with being the number on the back of his Glenbrook North Spartans football jersey.

You may donate here or send me a check made payable to The Billy Garrity Scholarship Fund.  Message me for my address and/or for more information about the scholarship.  There is a button at the top right corner to contact me directly.

 It is easy to perform a good action, but not easy to acquire a settled habit of performing such actions.   Aristotle

Thank you for your help

Saturday, July 21, 2012

First Responders Die A Little, One Tragedy At A Time.


In almost all cases of tragedy and horrific carnage such as in Aurora Colorado the first 60 minutes are the same.  A lone call is received by emergency dispatcher's followed by a flood of calls.  Police are notified via radio of the location of the incident and a quick general description of the event; what they might expect to see upon arrival.  The officer or officers dispatched to that location have maybe 60 seconds to decide what might actually be happening and which resources they will need to handle it.


In the case of the Colorado theater shooting the first few officers on scene know they will be actively hunting for a shooter or shooters among a mass of innocent people in total confusion.  Officers communicate with each other while driving at speeds of 60 plus miles per hour and unlock automatic rifles from secure locations within the squad.   Meanwhile paramedics and fireman listen to the radio call in their station and begin to make preparations.  If time permits, a call is made by dispatch to the local hospital ER to warn them of the pending medical need.  They in turn warn other ER's.


First officers on the scene pull up, survey what they see and run into harms way with guns drawn.  In the chaos many patrons are holding cell phones that look all too much like weapons but no mistakes are made.  In another minute more officers will arrive to triage the wounded, coral witnesses and call for paramedics.  Apparently in the Colorado incident Police are fortunate to apprehend one suspect within 60 seconds of arrival but still have no firm knowledge of any other possible threats.  Because there still could be an active shooter, paramedics and other non-police personnel cannot enter the scene.  There is a limited number of resources (paramedics and ambulances) and no chances can be taken that they will be harmed.  Until an all clear is given by police, fire dept commanders will hold their life saving teams well outside the incident area.


Perhaps 10 minutes have now passed.  Dispatchers are still receiving calls from the scared and wounded wanting the personal attention they need and first responders begin to die a little.  In this case the dispatchers who want desperately to help and to get help to others are faced with being the voice who has no ability to act but wants very much to do so.  Police on scene are in charge and dispatchers must wait for orders.  They document where the wounded are and prepare to get them help when word comes that it is safe to do so.  Paramedics have now staged just on the perimeter and listen to police radio traffic.  They too begin to die from the pressure of wanting to get in to help but needing to wait until orders are received.  By this time, maybe 12 to 15 minutes, police officers have identified who they believe are the most critical and want their commanders to let the paramedics in.  Some officers continue the hunt but they can never be totally sure the site is safe, most are now drawn to the most badly wounded and attempt to offer what meager help they can given the resources in their hands are guns and not first aid equipment.  Some officers begin to request they be allowed to transport the wounded in their own squads; time is now of the essence and life or death is just minutes away.  The Police commander reluctantly opens the scene for paramedics praying they have not made the wrong call.


Paramedics pull up with the voices of dispatchers directing them to locations of wounded.  All the victims on scene want attention but only the most serious cases get it;  resources are again limited.  Additional calls go out for more ambulances and paramedics.  The police who initially hunted the shooter try and comfort those that are now dying; a little of each officer is dying too.  They know it is too late and that they will be the last person in that wounded individuals life to talk with them and comfort them before they pass away.


By this time the unseen but extreme pressure on the first police who arrived on scene begins to shift it's focus to paramedics who are equally over-whelmed and the hospital emergency rooms who have just gotten their first cases.  One or two, even 10 or 15 are manageable but 50 plus far exceeds anyone's resources.  More police arrive as do firefighters and the same with Dr's and nurses.  The problem is resources in terms of ambulances, medical equipment and even treatment and operating rooms.  Ambulances are driving as fast as they can back and forth.  Within 25 minutes of the first call for help the first ambulances are now making their second run to get back to pick up the wounded.  Every first responder at this point knows they are seriously outmatched by the needs of the people they are trying to help.  The off air conversations between police, paramedics and hospital personnel are reduced to swearing for the most part; not at anyone but about everything.  Perhaps anger against the pressure will turn the tide in the helpers favor but that is not likely and they all keep doing anything and everything they can, to be of help.


The first responders are all dying now, a little at a time, as the pressure far exceeds their individual and collective ability to help at the level they want and the level that is necessary.  There are many heroic actions but each responders focus is on what they need and want to do and the fact they can't or at least not as fast as they want.  And this battle with the pressure continues for as long as it takes.  Officers and paramedics pick their battles one at a time and each small victory is cherished.  Eventually everyone knows they will prevail.  The question is how much will they think about what they could have done better.  It is in this discussion with themselves that their death occurs a little at a time.  

When their shift ends, many will gather with each other for a small meal and a cold drink to decompress and talk.  Outsiders are not welcome as they couldn't possibly understand what the first responders saw today.  Pulling up to total chaos and carnage imprints images in one's mind that won't ever totally go away.  There are comments but no questions.  There is some attempt at humor but each knows nothing but their own humanness in the heat of battle was funny.  What they're really talking about is the back up each felt from the others as they attempted to fix the unfix-able.


Police and Firefighters are often paid on the basis of what they may need to do, not on the basis of what they normally do.  In Colorado, in this instance as in far too many others, they were underpaid and over performed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Colorado Theater Shooter; Explaining The Inexplicable


Mental illness forced itself upon all of us once again in a Colorado movie theater this morning.  Whether or not we are ready to listen and to understand remains to be seen.  Inexplicable actions are troublesome for many, especially when trying to explain something so foreign as a massacre by a lone shooter. 

As with other lone shooters the story will eventually come out that this young adult was a loner with higher than average intelligence.  Many interacted with him but few took the time to get to know him.  Many are going to say he seemed a little off but no one thing will be pointed to.  His graduate school may know much more than they're admitting too and I'm sure we'll find they counseled him out so to speak; suggesting he stop his studies and requesting he get the help he needed before continuing his studies.  The bottom line to this story will be that almost all excluded the shooter from their friendship based upon a perceived difference and indifference.

In the area known as schizophrenia there is still too much confusion.  Even graduate students struggle with grasping much of it.  Basically there are three phases of what is referred to as a formal thought disorder (schizophrenia).

The first phase is the prodromal phase where behavior, cognition and emotion seems odd and eccentric.  Not so much so that people clearly see it but, something is wrong.  The second or active phase is where there is a total loss of touch with reality.  Delusional beliefs rule the day and the person is convinced that what their mind is telling them, is the absolute truth.  How far fetched you or I feel the thought might sound, to the subject with the affliction, the thought is as real as real can be.  The third phase is known as remission or recovery.  Phase 2 and 3 are easy to spot but phase one, which can last a year or more, is often only identified after phase 2 becomes apparent.  Phase one often strikes in the late teens or early 20's.

What you need to understand and believe is that in a thought disorder, the individuals thinking is as strong as yours or mine with one exception, they hold delusional views about the world and their place in it.  Trying to talk the thought out of them or using rationalization to show them how far off they are, is of no appreciable value.  All behavior is purposeful.  It is purposeful to the person engaging in it but not to others watching.  Inexplicable behavior is easily understood by the actor but almost never understood by those who witness it..

The shooter in this case will be found insane and unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions.  What concerns me most is whether or not society will finally come to understand that our mental health system is failing.  Protections are offered disproportionately to those afflicted but not to those ultimately affected.  We need a new system and police cannot continue to be forced to become mental health workers with guns.  The one thing this is not about is gun control laws but I fear politicians and special interests will talk the loudest about that issue and once again we will miss the real problem.

Someone Knew; Colorado Movie Theater Shootings Are Not About Gun Control.


Apparently a 24 year old graduate school drop out identified as James Holmes burst threw exit doors at a Colorado movie theater and began shooting patrons.  Information remains elusive as to exactly what took place but I believe it isn't too early to talk about future prevention possibilities given the nature and scope of  this tragedy.

Random acts of this type of violence are unfortunately not new.  Norway was the recent site of another, even larger violent act by a lone individual.  Stopping these acts of violence before they occur is obviously a high priority but limited resources and our American way of life are crucial variables in the equation.  As a police psychologist with 14 years experience I can tell you we do a great job apprehending criminals and solving all sorts of crime after the fact but there is little we can do proactively to stop violence before it happens.  We have limited resources as far as actual numbers of police officers go and the level of public restriction required, even if we did have the numbers of officers needed, would be paralyzing.

I can tell you from experience however that very few people capable of committing these types of acts are totally unknown.  Someone always knows these people and knows about their behavior.  The question is what do they do about it and who do they communicate it too.

5 Stages of An Active Shooter  Police One

Our mental health laws prohibit the active sharing of relevant information and often work against successfully finding and intervening with these folks.  Virgina Tech is but one of dozens of examples.  The fact is that our mental health system is broken and it operates on policies and procedures that protect the interests of the mentally ill to a far greater degree than it protects society at large.  Until major changes are made we can expect more of these horrific acts.

In the Village I work in we actively look for impaired folks and make sure they are receiving the help they need.  This week alone we forcibly took two separate individuals for the health care they needed.  In the process a loaded handgun was removed from one and 40 some additional weapons were eventually removed from his home; all legally obtained and stored.

Until such time as we fix the mental health system and make policies serve the needs of the mentally ill as well as society at large we will have more tragedy.  In the two cases I spoke of above people knew and spoke up.  They may have waited a bit longer than I would have liked but they did speak up and a crisis was averted.

It's time for people to trust their local law enforcement professionals to handle these situations proactively and not to wait until we have to clean it up after the fact.  Parents, schools, friends and others can no longer turn a blind eye to or hide in denial from people they know who need help.  If you see something, say something.  It's that simple.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Yes You Can Play; Being "Part of And Belonging" Changes The Context.


The recent loss of life in Northbrook by current and former Glenbrook North students Billy Garrity, Ryan McCarthy and Kyle Caraher (among others) has cast a pall over the Community.  So much so that a special program was held at GBN on July 11th titled "Tools for Coping: Helping Northbrook and Glenview Families Deal with Sudden Losses."  I support the Community's effort but I remain skeptical and concerned that it falls within the "too little, too late" category of reaction as opposed to proactive prevention.  Allow me to explain.

I often try to look at things from the perspective of an adolescent and, as a parent.  The first perspective is why I chose the profession I am in and the second is a role I've occupied for 25 years.  What I wanted was the truth but what I received was appearance.  The truth is that there were other tragic deaths within this time period that most of the kids knew about but the deaths weren't out in the open so to speak.  One was in the obituaries and one wasn't.  Families have the right to privacy so I won't cross that line here but the kids knew and know so the message is already clouded in their minds.

As a parent I also wanted to know what, if anything, could be done on a community level to support my efforts.  There was mention of a "coming together" (I'm paraphrasing here) and an email by Northbrook Village President Sandi Frum in which she was quoted as writing ""The Coping With Loss event is just a beginning," Frum wrote. "Northbrook can and will recover from this."  I know Sandi and I know she means it and makes situations this like this a priority.  But what I also heard was the tired rhetoric about depression and adolescents as well as some quote suggesting that 1 in 10 High School students have attempted suicide within the last year.  As a scientist I'm skeptical of these types of statistics and you should be too.

In any event what I didn't hear about was much of anything to do with the context of suicide or the environment that our young people grow up in.  As a parent and former Glenview/Northbrook adolescent, that is where the heart of this matter resides.  As an individual of any age, what is my role and where do I fit in?  Do I belong and am I part of the "right" groups or am I simply fringe; accepted by some but outcast by others?  Or maybe even worse, do I not fit in and just float aimlessly within the Community?

The heart of the matter here in the Northbrook Glenview area , as it is in Lake Forest or Barrington before that, is do I belong and am I part of?  Vivian Paley is a former kindergarten teacher who had an idea and acted on it.  In her book, "You can't say, you can't play" she discusses what happened in her classroom and on the playground when everyone was welcome to be part of the social fabric and no one could be left out.

PBS - The Cruelty of Children.  11 enlightening minutes. 

The issue on the North Shore is and perhaps always will be appearance.  My house, my car, my clothes, my job, my attractiveness, my club, etc (in relation to others of course).  Where do I fit in the pecking order?  Or perhaps more directly, where don't I fit in?  If we are to alter the statistics on suicide and mental health in general, diversity has to be more than a word.  We have to say that you can play and that everyone can play.  Acceptance and tolerance have to be more than the subject of a sermon repeated ad nausea by our religious leaders in hopes that someday we will actually understand and practice it.

At this point, if you don't fully understand, let me tell you where to observe it in action.  For as long as I can remember Ron or Bruce (among others) have stood at or near the entrance of Sunset foods and personally welcomed shoppers; all shoppers.  The result is a feeling of belonging and being part of the Sunset Foods shopping experience.  You'll see it in action after Church in almost all of the entry ways where, as people depart, the Priest, Rabbi or Minister is there to greet you and to thank you for coming.  Translation - We want you here and are glad you came.

In our schools, park district programs and other public entities, this is not the case.  If you are not among the privileged "in group" or you don't excel in some fashion, you simply are present.  Worse, if you tend to squirm in your seat, get bored with the same old "talk at you" learning model, or aren't athletically inclined, you are ostracized.  In both Northbrook and Glenview, in almost every social entity there are those who are welcome and those who are not.  It is subtle but it is apparent and it is way too strong.  It needs to change and everyone needs to be welcome to play.

If, at this point, your response is yes but..... then I fear you'll continue to maintain the current status quo.  If your response is I agree and it just seems so hopeless......, then we have a chance.  Both Northbrook and Glenview are sincerely concerned about Village cohesiveness and a positive sense of Community.  Support their efforts by attending their commission meetings and be part of their efforts to turn diversity into a positive resource.  Much can and needs to be done.  The glass is half full now and can be even fuller with openness and honesty regarding our real Community ills as well as strengths.  Make these communities where kids and adults feel part of and have a real sense of belonging.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Can You Talk About Death?


The past 4 weeks have been full of tragedy in the Community of Northbrook Illinois.  3 Young men, Billy Garrity, Ryan McCarthy and Kyle Caraher all lost their lives; all too young.  If I use the number of views on this blog as an indication (over 8000) and the times those views occurred, it becomes clear that people have an extreme interest in information at or close too the time of the death.  As the hours and days march on, interest wanes.  One of the problems with this is that those affected most by these losses travel an opposite trajectory.   

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, as a young psychiatric intern, took it upon herself to talk with individuals in the Hospital who were dying as well as family members.  What she then identified is what she termed the stages of death and dying (link).  It was her belief that the stages were;
  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance
Dr. Ross believed that people moved through these stages in coming to a resolution of the loss.  It should be noted that not all people move through all stages or that they move through each stage in progression but we are fairly confident the process starts with denial and can end with acceptance.  Over the years these stages of death have come to be known as the grieving process and that those who are aware of their imminent death (In hospice, etc.) and those dealing with someone's death, both go through this process.

The main vehicle for moving through this process is to actively discuss the death.  This is vital to the person dying and to the people left behind.  Without going into all possible scenario's I'll just say that those who suffer a loss through death need the opportunity to talk about it.  The sad fact though is that most of us don't feel comfortable doing so and that leaves very few people to talk with, especially as the weeks and months march on.  Perhaps we never learn to do this?  Often it is discouraged by the well meaning but uniformed in some attempt to keep others from emotional pain.

What I can tell you from experience is this.  People who have lost loved ones welcome every sincere opportunity to talk about it, especially as time marches on and others begin to forget.  They are hurt by well meaning friends who suddenly avoid them out of fear of not knowing what to say.  Sure kids and adults are somewhat different in this aspect as in their when and where's of wanting to discuss it but they do want to discuss it.

When someone close to you loses a family member or close friend make it a point to ask how they are.  Express your regret that it happened and ask if you can do anything to help.  Most likely just listening is the biggest gesture you can make.  In doing so, over time, you'll notice your own comfort level growing regarding the subject of death as well as a new appreciation for life.  Don't run from these discussions and don't run from the people who have suffered these losses.  Learn to talk about death and use these times of tragedy to everyone's advantage.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Is There Purpose In Needless Suffering?


St. Norbert's, GBN and the entire Northbrook Community suffered another loss tonight with the tragic death of Kyle Caraher in a car accident.  I think the words of Terri Luc on a social media post say it best "to all northbrook teenagers. you are so loved. three in three weeks - unthinkable. God God please watch over all our families. God bless the families who have lost loved ones."

What this horrific accident brought to my mind was the concept of needless suffering.  Viktor Frankle, a Jewish Psychiatrist and death camp survivor wrote extensively about needless suffering and whether or not there was some purpose in it.  I'll keep things short here and just say that Dr. Frankle believed, based upon his experiences in the Holocaust,  that there was purpose in suffering and the way people found it was by facing it head on and working through it.  He certainly found it in his life.

It's seems too much to ask of our children that they feel this type of pain and victimization (yes, victimization) but what I saw tonight refreshed my hope and belief in humans and their capacity to overcome and move forward regardless of age or experience or amount of suffering.

What I saw tonight was Fr. Bob (Pastor of St, Nortbert's) and his staff  Maggie, Mona and Fr. Francis (among countless others) face this suffering head on with an overflowing crowd of teens and their parents.  I believe people will find purpose in all this pain and they will move forward.  The meaning will be individualistic based upon each persons relationship with Kyle, Ryan or Billy but people will find it.  There will be pain but there also will be development, growth and strength.  Northbrook should be very proud of the support and togetherness that I witnessed tonight and in the coming days and weeks I believe you will see it too.

PBS - The Cruelty of Children.  11 Enlightening minutes.

Link to details of the accident as reported by the County Sheriff 

Talking About Death, Can You Do It?


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Helping Adolescents and Young Adults Learn to Grieve


It occurred to me that tomorrow and Tuesday are going to be particularly hard for many people and also on the young adults who attend the wake (Mon 4 pm to 8 pm) and funeral (Tues at 10 am) at St. Norbert's for Ryan McCarthy.  Back in the mid 90's I was blessed to be a part of the development of the Ministry of Bereavement at St. Norbert's.  I recall much of the pain I witnessed and how out of place large numbers of young adults looked at wakes where more often than not, it was older and perhaps wiser adults who came to offer support and condolences to family members hit by the loss of a loved one.

I happened to be at Mass on the morning of Billy Garrity's funeral.  I remember walking in to the main vestibule about 815 and saw two young adults dressed very nicely and holding coffee cups.  As Mass ended the walk back out of Church was more of a maze than normal with all the young people who came early.  I know many of the older folks who attend wakes and funerals are far too used to it and have already learned about grief.  The young adults are another story.  After all not many of us are ever willing to talk about loss trough death.  Learning how to grieve is an experiential learning that only happens around the time of death.  With that in mind I wanted to write a short bit about how to grieve.  Maybe a young adult will read this or you can pass some of the idea's along?

I like the acronym TEARS to describe what people do most often that is helpful.  Grief is both a feeling and a process.  It hurts like hell and scares the heck out of people....the emotion runs very strong.  Needless to say many opt to try and run from it; either through medication or denial....often both.  The goal of the grieving process is to go from a relationship of presence with the loved/lost, to a relationship of memory.  Instead of "this is how things are," it's "this is how things were."  The method to get there is TEARS;

T = Trying hard to accept the reality of the loss.

E = Experience the pain of the loss.  Don't block it off.

A = Adjust to the environment without the person.  A very hard process that requires living.

R = Reinvest in the new reality.  Love again and continue to connect with others.

S = Seek support of others.  Mention how you feel to others.

Tomorrow and Tuesday, if you attend the wake and funeral Mass, take the time to speak with others.  Be open, be honest and be willing to state how you really feel.  The USA is the only Country who advertises in the paper for people to come and support the family and friends at the time of a loss through death.  It's how things are supposed to work.  We come together to support each other and to celebrate the life of the individual lost.  It's hard, uncomfortable and frightening.  The effect though is very comforting.

And for you adults who aren't too comfortable around large groups of kids, here's your chance to learn tolerance at an even deeper level.  They will really need your support too.



Todays Word is Postvention; Picking Up The Pieces.


The Northbrook Community was recently blindsided (actually victimized in a very real sense) by the deaths of two* young adults at their own hands these past few weeks.  Billy Garrity and Ryan McCarthy both had significant ties in the community and their loss has been felt in a very significant way by both family and the larger community.

I've had several individuals make contact with me to ask about what can be done to try and ensure somehow that there are no more deaths of young adults at their own hands.  My response has been what's termed "Postvention" activities.  The term appears to have been coined by folks in New Hampshire when they created a community response system for just such events.  I apologize to the real wordsmith if it isn't the New Hampshire folks but my research of the term led only to them.

Postvention activities involve a sharing of relevant information regarding suicide and help and support for those grieving in the aftermath of these types of action.  The reason postvention activities are so important is that people who personally know folks who have taken their life are at a statistically higher risk themselves for the same action.  And while the CDC does acknowledge contagion as rare, if it hits, it hits young people more.  Therefore postvention activities serve to possibly reduce contagion and therefore reduce risk of additional loss of life.

Postvention activities can involve almost any type of experiential learning as long as it includes factual information regarding what happened, why those choices were wrong and how survivors/victims can grieve and move forward.  Normally those with standing in the community take the lead in providing activities such as Churches, Social Service agencies and local Government.  I've purposely left out schools as they typically don't reach all segments of the community and it's too easy to always suggest the issue is theirs when it isn't; the Medicine is the Community as a whole.

*Some information exists that perhaps the number is actually 3.  I have been unable to confirm the possible third former student but word is it happened within the past 4 weeks or so.  I expect the press to track that issue down fairly quickly.