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Mental health and Violence

Does Mental Health contribute to violence?

After the horrific shooting in Connecticut, many in the media have begun to shift their focus to the mental health condition of Adam Lanza, who reportedly was autistic or had Asperger's syndrome in addition to a possible personality or anxiety disorder such as obessive-compulsive disorder. Recently more people are starting to question whether or not America is doing enough to address mental health issues in this country.

Every day on our disability forum I get questions from individuals who do not have medical care and who cannot afford medication to help them with their mental disorder. Finding counseling or a mental health specialist to treat their disorder is even more difficult.

The other day I had a disability applicant ask what they should do about their “homicidal tendencies.” I am just a nameless face behind a computer screen answering hundreds of questions a day, and I was left speechless. I had no answer except go to a mental health doctor, which if he’d had the means to do he probably would have done years ago. The real truth is right now there doesn’t seem to be a good answer, and no one really considers the problem until it is too late.

As people began to wonder how this recent school shooting could happen, I’m afraid I know. We don’t do enough for the mentally disabled. Where does a desperate parent with a violent child go? Does the answer change if the parent is working two jobs, lacks health coverage and doesn’t have money for a high dollar, mental health doctor?

What many have been cautioning against is creating a link between violence and autism or Asperger's, which in most cases does not exist. According to the Autism Society, "There is absolutely no evidence or any reliable research that suggests a linkage between autism and planned violence and to imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than 1.5 million law-abiding, nonviolent and wonderful individuals who live with autism each day."

While I agree with this statement I have to think back on a conversation I had with my daughter. She is having difficulty with an autistic boy in her junior high. She told me other kids pick on him, frequently pushing him and making fun of him. I encouraged her to be kind and understand that he has social challenges, noting that she could be the only friend he has. I told her that maybe if Adam had felt like he had one true friend, someone who loved him and understood him maybe he wouldn’t have felt so isolated. While this no doubt simplifies the problem, I want her to know that the way she treats people, especially in junior high and high school, can affect someone the rest of their life. I once had a boy tell me I was the only person who was kind to him in high school, something he never forgot. I’d love if my daughter had the same story someday.

Maybe autism or mental disorders don’t cause violence, but what happens to someone over time like the young man my daughter described? It is likely after frequent rejection and abuse from their peers that he will become “socially withdrawn,” especially if his attempts to socialize fail and he doesn’t get the proper treatment.

Peter Bell of Autism Speaks said, "Autism did not cause this horror,” and I believe this, but I also know repeated rejection by peers, by family and living with an untreated mental disorder can lead many to a place of desperation. In fact, I hear from disability applicants everyday that may not be autistic, but they are at a horrible place facing a mental health disorder and its effects and they are not sure what to do.

In Dallas free mental health care is available to some but the long waiting lists can be frustrating. Others who try to qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance are unable because they lack good medical care to prove they are disabled.

While we know that many individuals who have a mental disorder live peaceful and productive lives, we also know there are many who do not, and others, who may have reached a point of isolation that most of us cannot fathom, eventually commit heinous crimes that might have been prevented with proper treatment and the kindness of a friend.