Herewith a few notes about Elliott Rodger, not limited to his mental illness.
First, from the Daily Telegraph, a spokesman for the Rodger family offers this:
Simon Astaire, a family friend, said their son [Elliot] had been seeing therapists since the age of eight, including virtually “every day” while at high school.
He said: “What more could they [his parents] have done? They are going through indescribable grief dealing with the loss of their son. His parents were conscious and concerned about their son’s health. They thought he was in good hands.”
Undoubtedly, Elliott was treated by the best mental health professionals. I would add that if the child was seeing a therapist virtually every day while at high school, the chances are good that he was undergoing psychoanalytic treatment. No other treatment requires that many sessions.
The Wall Street Journal reports that one psychiatrist wanted Elliot to be taking anti-psychotic medication:
According to Mr. Rodger's circulated document, his parents last year took him to a psychiatrist, who prescribed Risperidone, an antipsychotic commonly used to treat the symptoms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But Mr. Rodger believed it was "the absolute wrong thing for me to take," and refused to take it, he wrote.
Rodger’s parents and psychiatrists feared that he was dangerous so they informed the proper authorities. The local sheriff’s department sent deputies to investigate.
Question: Do you honestly believe that a sheriff’s deputy is competent to evaluate anyone’s mental health?
The Journal reports:
A few weeks ago, his mother noticed some disturbing YouTube videos he had posted. She called his therapist in Santa Barbara, who alerted authorities, according to sheriff's investigators, the family friend and Mr. Rodger's writings.
"I had the striking and devastating fear that someone had discovered what I was planning to do, and reported me for it," Mr. Rodger said in his writings that sheriff's deputies visited his home. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said the deputies found Mr. Rodger "polite and courteous."
Mr. Rodger explained in his writing that he lied to police when they asked if he had suicidal thoughts, and wrote that he was relieved the police never searched his room. If they had they would have discovered documents outlining his plans, and his weapons, according to his writings.
Be clear: they never searched his room. Apparently, their investigation was less than thorough.
Writing in the Atlantic Jeff Deeney explains that Rodger is not the only psychotic mass murderer who had undergone mental health treatment. And he was not the only one who was protected by the law against involuntary commitment.
Adam Lanza had therapeutic contact with mental health professionals before he went on to shoot up Sandy Hook Elementary School. James Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist before he went on a killing spree at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater in July of 2012. Before Jared Loughner shot Gabbie Giffords near Tucson, Arizona he had raised red flags at school, where teachers reported that he had become increasingly bizarre, delusional, and threatening in class.
So why didn’t law enforcement detain Elliot Roger, or any of the other recent mass shooters who had some contact or had some concern raised about their wellbeing before they went on to kill? It seems obvious after the fact that such an intervention could have prevented unfathomable tragedy. Why do we fail to intervene?
Deeney offers some unimpressive arguments against involuntary commitment. He even suggests that if Rodger had been committed involuntarily he would have eventually gotten out and gone on a rampage anyway.
Then again, Deeney’s idea of voluntary commitment does not seem to include treatment.
This is why Elliot Rodger likely would have still committed murder even if the Sheriffs had detained him on the day they visited him. A 72-hour stay on a psych unit might have done little more than but make him more determined. And there’s no evidence suggesting that changing our mental health policies to make involuntarily committing people with mental illness easier to do won’t wind up netting more Elliot Rodger types in the nick of time before they kill. It will more likely wind up hurting our friends, family and community members with mental illness who are not violent, that make up the vast majority of all people with mental health disorders. It risks making it easier to commit the terrible injustice of unnecessarily taking away the freedom of mentally ill people who pose no real risk to public safety. There are many ways to prevent mass murder that we should be discussing, including the quality of mental health treatment we provide, but calling for more involuntary mental health commitments isn’t one of them.
Of course, this is empty speculation. No one who favors involuntary commitment is talking about three days of observation. Deeney compromises his own argument by introducing this red herring.
Involuntary commitment should entail treatment, with the medication that Rodger had already refused.
As for the quality of mental health treatment, the evidence suggests that all of these young psychotic mass murderers were offered or received the best mental health treatment available.
Deeney is quite right to say that totalitarian governments have used involuntary commitment to abuse political dissidents. And yet, this need not be the case.
Any regimen can be subject to abuse. No one ‘s judgment is infallible. Protecting the supposedly free will of psychotic mass murderers is also subject to abuse—and a body count.
Finally, for all of those who worry about Rodger’s exercise of free will, I would point out that he was likely suffering from a brain disease and that his disease deprived him of his free will. There are physiological conditions that make it impossible for an individual to control his behavior.
As for the non-psychiatric aspect of the case, consider this:
How much does the flood of media articles about Elliott Rodger and the other psychotic murderers offer mentally deranged young people a chance at fame and glory and celebrity. Commit murder and mayhem and you can gain infamy, at the least.
You will also be receiving some very serious attention. The world will recognize something that the mental health professionals ignored: how serious you were, how troubled you were, how much you needed treatment.
Infamy also beats anonymity. Now lots of girls want to have sex with Elliott Rodger.
Worse, all the girls who turned him down, who did not even know that he existed, will be thinking that they could have stopped it all … if only. Surely, the media coverage ensures that he will haunt their dreams.