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What can be done when the warning signs are so clear?

Are rights and responsibilities putting public safety at risk when it comes to issues of mental health?

Ray’s thoughts on protecting a loved one suffering from mental illness

After Elliot Rodger's rampage in California, there has been a lot of finger-pointing. In some mass shooting cases, we hear family and friends knew of serious problems but didn't know what to do.

Medical treatment laws make adult involuntary commitment difficult: Individuals are in charge of decisions regarding their medical care.

Striking the balance right is a challenge. How do you protect the interests of people struggling with mental illness as well as the interests of others?

Videos posted and messages written by Elliot Rodger before he killed six others and himself last Friday leave little doubt that he was mentally disturbed. Reporting and a statement from a parent suggest the 22-year-old grappled with severe mental issues for years and treated it with therapy. But as recently as last month, his videos convinced his parents to seek help from law enforcement.


Exerpt from Elliot Roger’s journal

“I was desperate to have the life I know I deserve; a life of being wanted by attractive girls, a life of sex and love. Other men are able to have such a life ... so why not me? I deserve it! I am magnificent, no matter how much the world treated me otherwise. I am destined for great things.”

Rodger's parents called the police in April, and officers stopped by his house. After questioning him, they did not find the young man dangerous, just shy and lonely. In a press conference, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown explained why Rodger did not raise any red flags.

[He] told them it was all a big misunderstanding, that his relative and this other person had taken things the wrong way and he really wasn’t going to hurt anybody or himself.

Bill Brown

sheriff, Santa Barbara County

News of the police visit stunned the grieving community and raised questions about what warrants intervention or even involuntary commission. Richard Martinez, the father of one of the victims, said at a press conference, "I can't understand why we aren't doing more to prevent this kind of thing. Here you got a guy who they knew. I don't know whether it's the family or the police or who, but aren't we tired of this?"

It is a debate America has unfortunately had before. In the name of public safety, is there more that should be done when a troubled person's red flags are well known? From Blacksburg to Aurora, from Newtown to Tuscon, it is a question that haunts us every time mental illness and violence intertwine.

We consulted a panel of mental health experts to get the Inside Story.

Pete Earley

Pete Earley is the author of 13 books, including the New York Times best-seller "The Hot House" and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize finalist "Crazy: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness."

His life was turned upside down by the events recounted in "Crazy," when he discovered his son suffered from bipolar disorder. He joined the National Alliance on Mental Illness to advocate for reform in the troubled mental health system.

What are your thoughts on protecting a person's civil rights in light of also getting help for someone who has mental illness?

Pete Earley: It is a very thorny issue. Forty percent of [the people] who responded to the attacks of Sept. 11 had post-traumatic stress disorder afterward. Does it mean every one of them has to be stripped of their badges? Of course not. But where do you draw the line?

There is a huge fight going on in Capitol Hill. Congressman Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania introduced his bill that would basically turn the pendulum back and would allow parents more power to intervene. It has 72 co-sponsors and was scheduled to come to the House floor in June. Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona introduced a bill two weeks ago to stop the Murphy bill. Rep. Barber's bill was introduced partly because the Murphy bill would remove money from the substance abuse and mental health administration and put it under the National Institutes of Mental Health.

The Democrats claim this is a classic case of them trying to stop the Republicans from gutting federal funds for programs such as horse therapy, for example, or having people take Weight Watchers as part of their treatment programs. These are not purely medically driven, that are proven to be successful, like in my son's case, that is peer to peer therapy, like Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, uses a person who has recovered from alcoholism to help another alcoholic, peer to peer helps those with a mental illness.

Rep. Murphy has said repeatedly his bill will not cut programs that are effective, including peer to peer. It will stop SAMHSA from spending money on programs that suggest ways for people to stop taking medications or question whether mental illness is real. The fight over the Murphy bill and what should be funded is a huge issue. A huge fight in the mental health community.

Debbie Plotnick

Debbie Plotnick works with state and local advocates on Medicaid, health reform and state mental health programs and policies. She coordinates the efforts of the Regional Policy Council, consisting of mental health policy leaders. She provides technical assistance to mental health advocates, works with national mental health coalitions and develops and disseminates policy information for stakeholders, decision-makers and the general public.

At what point does the protection of civil rights become a hindrance to  protecting the individual and his or her family?

Debbie Plotnick: What if a child has cancer and a parent could not — without the child’s permission — look at health records? This is not the case. The doctor says right away, "Who would you like me to share it with?"

In the case of being a parent of an adult child who suffers mental health, the practice of sharing health information does not follow the same rules. It should but doesn’t. It doesn’t because it is illegal. It doesn’t because people don’t ask. When you know your child is really sick, you don’t call the police.

The problem is we don’t have the political will to create the medical system, the treatment system and support system that we do with other conditions. If your child has cancer, you call the doctor, and the patient is seen periodically. You also have nurses and peers that call to help you. That is what we need in the mental health system and to not treat people as if they are criminals.

You can change all you want and can compel people to treatment, but until you change culture for support, we will end up in the same place.

Jeff Deeney

Jeff Deeney is a social worker who works with felon drug offenders in Philadelphia. When he is not navigating the criminal justice system, he is a freelance writer for publications like The Atlantic, Newsweek and The Daily Beast.

What has your experience been with this assisted outpatient treatment and its impact on the well-being and recovery path of patients?

Jeff Deeney: As a social worker, if I try to involuntary commit someone, the mental health delegate will grill me. They will ask, "Why? What is going on? What are the conditions? What other ways can you possibly resolve this?"

It is really hard to get that involuntary commit order approved because once approved, it's a warrant. You're not calling an ambulance. The police are called in at that point. And every person who is called in to a psychiatric unit involuntary is taken in handcuffs, and that interaction has a lot of potential to go very wrong once you introduce police. You have a situation which can go in a direction you didn't think it was going to go.

I had that happened before, where my client is treated very poorly and then that client will take it out on me when they get out. What you do is, if you relax those regulations to the point where the police would have been able to take, for example, Elliot, you would be involuntarily committing so many people, you will start to see a breakdown in the number of people accessing involuntarily treatments. It ruins the relationship between the mental health world and police.

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