(Dec. 14, 2012) ARLINGTON, VA – Friday’s mass shooting that left nearly 30 dead in Connecticut – including 20 young children – is one of nearly a dozen 2012 rampages involving assailants with suspected mental health issues. The year appears on track to end with more victims of rampage killings than any year before.
“Our mental health system has completely failed individuals with severe mental illness and their communities,” said Doris A. Fuller, executive director. “We have emptied the nation's hospitals, gutted state and local mental health programs, and turned involuntary treatment into a debate point instead of using it as a viable option to prevent tragedy involving those too ill to help themselves.”
Federal law enforcement officials say Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother, Nancy, who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and six adults. He was dead at the scene.
While the cause of Lanza's death and other details are still not known, the theme of untreated mental illness that so often characterizes rampage killings already has emerged. Neighbors have described Adam as “troubled for sure for a long time” and "displaying characteristics associated with mental illness." A relative told ABC News he was "obviously not well."
“Mental illness is a real disease that can be treated, and those who receive timely and effective treatment are no more dangerous than the general public," said Fuller. "Tragedies like Sandy Hook are often evidence of five decades of failed mental-health policies. Mental illness treatment laws and policies need to address this failure so people get help before they become dangerous and so the public is protected.”
Connecticut has an estimated 140,000 people with severe mental illness, of whom approximately one-half are untreated at any given time. It is one of only six states without a law authorizing court-ordered outpatient treatment for qualifying individuals with severe mental illness. Between 2005 and 2010, the state eliminated 17% of its public hospital beds, leaving it with only 43% of the number deemed minimally adequate to meet public needs, and has twice as many people with severe mental illness behind bars as in psychiatric hospital beds.
- “Rampage murders” from The Insanity Offense: How America's Failure to Treat the Seriously Mentally Ill Endangers Its Citizens, E. Fuller Torrey, MD (WW Norton, 2012): “There is one class of homicides for which individuals with severe psychiatric disorders are responsible for a much higher percentage….These are rampage murders in which the person kills several people, usually strangers, at one time.”
- "Violent crimes and homicides" from "No Room at the Inn: Trends and Consequences of Closing Public Psychiatric Hospitals,” Treatment Advocacy Center (July 2012): “When (individuals with severe mental illness) do not receive treatment, multiple studies have found their risk of violent behavior, including homicides, to be significantly elevated….(A)t least 10% of homicides are associated with severe mental illnesses….”
- "Comparison of first-episode and previously treated persons with psychosis found NGMI for a violent offense," Nielssen, et.al., Psychiatric Services (July 2011): “Evidence has emerged of a higher risk of serious violence in first-episode psychosis.
- “Violent behavior: One of the consequences of failing to treat individuals with severe psychiatric disorders,” Treatment Advocacy Center (February 2008)