After Navy Yard, One Expert Suggests “Mental Health Ambulance” for Police


In hindsight, it may seem clear that Aaron Alexis, who went on a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard, posed a threat much earlier, but experts say it is very difficult to pick out people who are likely to commit murder. says the New York Times. “I can tell you the common characteristics of people who engage in mass shootings: It's a picture of troubled, isolated young men that matches the picture of tens of thousands of other young men who will never do this,” said psychiatry Prof. Jeffrey Swanson of Duke University. Just last month, Alexis told police in Rhode Island he was hearing voices and was being followed by people bombarding him with vibrations. Three violent incidents in the past decade led to run-ins with the police.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Alexis had reported insomnia and other symptoms, but he “never sought an appointment from a mental health specialist, and had previously either canceled or failed to show up for primary care appointments and claims evaluations examinations.” Even if he had kept the appointments, it is hard to say if he would have given doctors enough reasons to intervene. Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital, said tragedies might be averted if the police could immediately call in a mental health team when they encountered people like Alexis who claim to be hearing voices. “Wouldn't it be great if there was a local outreach team that the police could call?” she said. “We know how to send an ambulance, but maybe we should have the equivalent of a mental health ambulance.”

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