Advice On Dangerous Mental Cases: Watch For Sudden Changes


The New York Times takes its turn analyzing why it's so difficult to get mental treatment for someone like Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner. Moving a person who is resistant into treatment is an emotional, sometimes exhausting process that may not lead to changes in behavior. Mental health resources are scarce, laws make it difficult to commit an adult involuntarily, and even after receiving treatment, many patients stop taking their medication or seeing a therapist, believing that they are no longer ill.

With Loughner, dozens of people saw warning signs: classmates who listened as his dogmatic language grew more detached from reality, police officers who advised that he could not return to college without a medical note stating that he was not dangerous. “This isn't an isolated incident,” said Daniel Ranieri of La Frontera Center, a nonprofit group that provides mental health services. “There are lots of people who are operating on the fringes who I would describe as pretty combustible. And most of them aren't known to the mental health system.” Jack McClellan, a psychiatrist at the University of Washington, advises people who are worried that someone is struggling with a mental disorder to watch for three things — a sudden change in personality, in thought processes, or in daily living. “This is not about whether someone is acting bizarrely; many people, especially young people, experiment with all sorts of strange beliefs and counterculture ideas,” Dr. McLellan said. “We're talking about a real change. Is this the same person you knew three months ago?”


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