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What about mental health?


Sandy Hook reports released by Connecticut officials have been helpful in the drive to guard schools against future attacks. But information publicized has thus far been insufficient in one aspect of what occurred in Newtown — the mental-health records of Adam Lanza.

Perpetrators of mass violence are commonly remembered by their former associates as having displayed signs of mental-health issues. Lanza is no different. Those who knew the eventual-gunman recalled a boy psychologically crippled by social anxiety, physical sensitivity and a notable lack of empathy for others. His family reportedly sought help for the troubled youngster, though any aid he received clearly proved ineffective.

Schools nationwide have upgraded security systems in light of how Sandy Hook was breeched and attacked. At least what went wrong can now be applied toward a safer future. Consequently, wouldn’t it also be useful for medical professionals to study mental-health records of Lanza, to better understand potential warning signs in similarly disturbed youths?

Problem is, state officials are hesitant to release those reports. Patients have legal rights to privacy, and the explicit confidentiality between patient and doctor is an essential tradition to uphold.

But, as expressed in a Dec. 21 AP story by Dr. Harold Schwartz, psychiatrist-in-chief at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living and member of Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Advisory Committee, Newtown “is not a routine situation.”

The full records of Lanza could help Schwartz, fellow commission members and medical professionals comprehend more clearly the boy’s mental health — and how school, family and healthcare systems failed to adequately address his problems. For instance, as a fifth-grader at Sandy Hook, Lanza wrote a short story in which a grandmother shoots people, and another character enjoys hurting others, especially children. Who else saw that document? What sort of response was there? And, in general, how did Newtown education staff handle the overtly troubled boy?

Also worth knowing are what treatments exactly Lanza underwent. What specialists did he visit? What steps did his family take to mitigate his mental-health afflictions? Information released about Lanza in years prior to his rampage indicate multiple, conspicuous red flags that required professional attention. He compiled ranking systems of mass murderers, became obsessed with historical killing sprees, refused anyone entry into his bedroom, and stopped talking in person with people, including his mother, with whom he lived alone.

Why did friends of the family not attempt intervention?

Regrettably, mental-health problems are somewhat taboo in modern culture. Connecticut families can face difficulties in finding suitable services for, or facing the unsettling reality of, their psychologically unwell children. Lanza is a symbol (albeit an extreme one) for what can happen when these issues are not properly addressed.

For all the state-of-the-art security systems that schools have been installing, a well-prepared psychology staff may be the better defense against the next violent event. Schwartz and his peers should continue to push for the release of Lanza’s complete records. This valuable info would allow professionals to better tailor mental-health programs toward helping unwell youths — especially the severely afflicted like Lanza — before psychological conditions of such kids unravel to the point of risking tragedy.



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