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No Easy Cure

Little known truth…I am an insomniac.  Typically when I can’t sleep, it’s because my mind won’t shut off or can’t shut out, what it has experienced during the day.  I’m probably no different than many Americans, and like most of America, for the past several nights I have been shocked to my core unable to close my eyes to the terrible carnage wrought by the monster Elliot Rodger.  If you have not been following our ongoing discussion here at Dr. Drew on Call, allow me to get you up to speed.  Elliot Roger a 22 year old college student, fatally stabbed 3 men in his home, proceeded to shoot two women outside of a sorority house, and then shot a man at a deli in Isla Vista California, before turning the gun on himself and ending his own life.  By the end of his rampage, 6 innocent people were dead, and a community was left searching for answers.

Unfortunately in situations like this, there are always far too many more questions than answers.  How could an obviously disturbed individual purchase guns legally?  Where are the checks in the system, to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill?  How could his parents, knowing that their son was disturbed unleash him upon an unsuspecting college campus?  How could the psychotherapist that received hi s 137 page manifesto, fail to alert the police?  How could the police, in an unrelated matter when they searched hi s home (at his mother’s request) fail to thoroughly search his room, and not find his arsenal of weapons?  Lastly, how could a seemingly good looking young man of financial means feel so much rage and despair, causing him to commit such heinous acts?

For almost a year now, I have been privileged to be in the company of one of America’s most famous doctors.  Four nights a week on HLN, Dr. Drew Pinsky is most definitely on call, and I have a front row seat.  As one of the regular panelists I trade words, often times harshly with the good doctor’s diagnosis.  I am a journalist/social commentator by trade, and thus a skeptic by nature.  To me, mental health is akin to sorcery, or fortune telling.  Regardless of the “why” someone does something, society is left to deal with the aftermath of the deed.  If a mentally ill person commits a crime, the stain on humanity is still there the same as if a mentally fit person committed the act.  However, what Dr. Drew has been able to do, is to open my eyes to the fact that until some of the stigma is lifted on mental illness and mentally ill people, to quote Shirley Bassey… “It’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”

Starting from the year 2000, thus excluding the thirteen souls that perished at Columbine in April of 1999, and listed from greatest number of lives lost, the death count beggars all sense of reason:

·         32 Killed – April 16, 2007 - Virginia Tech University – 23 year old student Seung Hui Cho kills 32 people, and wounding countless others, before ending his own life.

·         27 Killed – December 14, 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary School – Newton Connecticut, 20 year old Adam Lanza guns down 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults, before turning a gun on himself.  His mother is later found dead from a gunshot wound.  Including his suicide the total dead is actually 28 people.

·         13 Killed – November 5, 2009 – Binghamton, New York – Jiverly Wong kills 13 people and injures four more, during a shooting at an immigrant community center.  He then kills himself.

·         12 Killed – September 16, 2013 – Shots are fired inside the Washington Navy Yard killing 12 people.  The shooter is identified as Aaron Alexis, age 34 who dies in the altercation.

·         12 Killed – July 20, 2012 – Twelve people are killed, and 58 are wounded in a shooting at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater.  The gunman, James E. Holmes 24, is taken into custody outside the movie theater.  He is dressed head-to-toe in protective tactical gear as if preparing for war.

·         10 Killed – March 10, 2009 – In Alabama, Michael McLendon kills 10 and himself.  Among the dead are his mother, grandparents, aunt and uncle.

·         8 Killed – October 12, 2011 – Eight people are killed at the Salon Meritage in Seal Beach California.  Scott Evans Dekraai, aged 41 is arrested while trying to flee the scene.  He is armed with multiple handguns, and has body armor under his clothes.

·         8 Killed – January 19, 2010 – Christopher Speight age 39, kills’ eight people at a house in Appomattox, Virginia. 

·         8 Killed – March 29, 2009 – Robert Stewart, aged 45, kills a nurse and seven elderly patients at a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina.

·         8 Killed – December 5, 2007 – Robert Hawkins, aged 19, opens fire in a shopping mall in Omaha Nebraska.  He kills eight people before killing himself.

·         8 Killed – March 21, 2005 – Red Lake Minnesota - Jeff Weise, aged 16, kills his grandfather, another adult, four fellow students, a teacher, and a security officer.  He then kills himself.

The chilling fact is that I stopped my list at eight people being killed.  If I had continued down to five, it would have covered several pages. 

Now I’m not silly enough to engage in a conversation about gun control.  Smarter individuals, families that have been ripped apart by gun violence, even the President of the United States, Barrack Obama have not been able cure American’s of their infatuation with guns.  Even the impassioned pleas of Richard Martinez, whose son Chris Martinez died at the hands of Elliot Roger, probably won’t sway enough politicians to enact stricter gun control laws.  My beliefs on guns, the right to own guns, and gun safety are an argument for another time.  What I’m writing tonight, what is keeping me from sleeping, is my fear that we are only glimpsing the tip of the ice berg.

With the proliferation of “Social Media”, we have created a “celebrity without talent” culture.  Kids and even adults are starting to feel that they are entitled to better lives, without having to work for it.  Instant gratification, selfishness, delusions of grandeur, narcissism, and good old fashion jealousy and envy, are infecting the minds of those online.  If a person can go from obscurity to notoriety due to the release of a sex tape, or become bank breakingly rich due to the amount of “views” they can muster on YouTube, society is in serious trouble. 

Dr. Drew believes that “Social Media” can be used to help ferret out the mentally ill, by monitoring their posts on websites such as Twitter, and Facebook.   And this is where the good doctor and I differ greatly in our opinion on the merits of “Social Media”.  Mental illness is difficult to diagnose even by trained professionals.  The idea of the untrained masses trying to ascertain the sanity of their “Friends” posts is too scary to contemplate.  When the number of “followers”, “likes”, and “re-tweets” has become a form of currency people use to assess their self-worth, who knows what someone might conjure up just to start “trending”.  It would be the literal manifestation of the children’s story, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”.  We would have every manner of charlatan, and fame seeker, trying to outdo one another for attention.  I fear that those who are in dire need of medical care would fall further thru the cracks than they already have.

My solution to be honest, seems a bit draconian and barbaric.  I would have all diagnosed mentally ill individuals registered in the same manner that states force sex offenders to register.  Moreover, any diagnosed mentally ill person that committed a crime while off their medication would be shown no more leniency than a sane individual.  I have neither the zeal of the newly converted, nor the staunch denial of an unbeliever.  I can understand someone being mentally ill, I just don’t believe that they can be cured of their illness.  Dr. Drew and I may differ on many points, but one that we do agree on, is that for the mentally ill, the only solution is constant treatment.  I only advocate that we treat them as severely as the crimes they commit.  Our current methods aren’t working…perhaps then we are the crazy ones.  Insanity, after all can be defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. 

Cue up Shirley Bassey…

"Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you'll find one at the end of your arm...As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands.  One for helping yourself, the other for helping others."

Audrey Hepburn