It May Be Impossible For Mental Health System To Spot A Cho


It may be impossible to find the next Seung-Hui Cho among us, says the Richmond Times-Dispatch. A brush with Virginia’s mental-health system often starts with an interview that usually takes less than an hour. “It’s not a lot of time,” said John Lindstrom of the Richmond Behavioral Health Authority. Most mental-health experts say it is impossible to tell when someone is ill enough to kill 32 people and then himself. “People don’t appreciate that you can be severely mentally ill with distorted reality and still be able to function in other ways that seem pretty sophisticated and complicated,” said Dewey Cornell, an education professor at the University of Virginia. “[Cho] carried out a pretty elaborate plan despite being pretty disturbed.”

For 16 months, Cho apparently managed not to worry anyone who knew him — though mental-health officials say the depth of his isolation during that time is a heartbreaking sign of how ill he was. Cho’s encounter with the mental-health system, like thousands of others, was quick and short. It was focused on a crisis. Cornell said that while Cho’s experience seems consistent with what is known about other school shooters — a bullies’ victim, chronic depression, a preoccupation with violence — many young people share similar traits but never turn violent. Says Cornell: “At a certain point, a mentally ill individual who has paranoid delusions really no longer needs outside factors to guide their behavior. He may well have been treated kindly at Virginia Tech and not teased or bullied, but in his mind he has delusions of persecution and sees himself as a victim.”


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