Lafayette

Dec 17, 2012 8:31 PM by Erin Steuber

The Mental Illness Behind Mass Murder

In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, it's easy to talk about gun control. But what about the mental illness behind these horrific mass shootings?

Since 1982, there has been at least 62 mass murders across the country. Acute paranoia, delusions and depression are all common mental illnesses among these killers, with at least 35 committing suicide on, or near, the scene. More than half, showing signs of mental illness prior to these shootings.

Lafayette Psychatrist Susan Uhrich (your-ick) says we, as a nation, have turned a blind eye to mental illness. And there are little, to no, resources for parents to intervene early. Uhrich says if there were more mental health resources available to parents we wouldn't be seeing the number, and extent, of mass shootings we're seeing now. She says the tendency is to highly medicate patients, have them stay in a hospital for a couple days of observation and send them on their way, with no follow-up treatment. Uhrich says the biggest problem with psychiatric disorders is that every patient is a study of their own.

One Acadiana mother says her daughter's mental health issues have torn her family apart.

About 4 years ago, this Acadiana mother, began the frustrating journey of getting her oldest daughter the mental help she needed. She says it started as depression, but grew into something much more violent. So bad, she sent her two youngest children to live with their grandmother.

"I had to carry around anything she could harm herself with. Medicine, cough syrup, knives, scissors, razors, everything was in my purse," she said. "everyday, I never knew what I was going to face that day. You know, I'd say no, and the next thing I'd have to do is call the police."

Over the next year, her daughter was in and out of the hospital 10 times. Every time a new diagnosis, more medication and no closer to an answer. She's been told her search for help was hopeless. Desperate, she put her daughter in foster care. She knows parents who've turned to the system to get the resources they need for their children.

"Well I was hoping they'd be able to get her into some sort of residential facility, and for someone else to see what I was going through on a daily basis," she said. "And to get some consistency with the care she was receiving, because there was no consistency."

Uhrich says parents call her office daily, but the truth is, here is often no place for them to go for help.

"Mental health patients are thrown away, nobody wants to deal with them, and we do not provide the consistent care that these patients need, and deserve," said Uhrich.

Uhrich stresses the majority of mental health patients aren't violent. But unfortunately, there is no textbook that says when, or if they will become violent. She says the solution would be providing mental health screenings in schools. Currently, the way the system works, there is no intervention at an early age.

"I think that most parents have a sense when their children are not ok. They may not know what's wrong, but they have a sense that something isn't right," said Uhrich.
The Acadiana mother says her daughter, now 16, is home and stable.

"You know, had I received the help that I needed in a timely fashion, if I had received the back up and support at the beginning, we may not have gone through all of this," she said.

Friday, the state announced cuts, including cutting the Office of Behavioral Health of more than $860,000. Dr. Urich says the lack of funding is one reason why mental illnesses in young children tend to go undiagnosed. Our calls, and emails, to the Governor's office about state mental health cuts went unanswered.

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