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Sandy hook shooting: Was Adam Lanza lashing out against treatment? (+video)

Two media reports suggest that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's mother was seeking mental-health treatment for him – perhaps including involuntary commitment. Experts say seeking treatment against someone's will is fraught with difficulties.

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“Connecticut's civil commitment laws are among the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to getting help for a loved one in psychiatric crisis,” said Kristina Ragosta, senior legislative and policy counsel for the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va., which pushes to make it easier to commit people for treatment before they become dangerous.

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Connecticut does have a law allowing for someone to be sent to the hospital for 72 hours for evaluation if he or she poses a danger to himself or others, says Kate Mattias, executive director of the Connecticut branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Emergency mobile psychiatric services in hospitals – including one in Danbury, near Newtown – can come to a home or other location to bring someone into the hospital, she says. And after the 72 hours, if someone can demonstrate that he or she is a continued threat, a judge can order a 14-day stay, she says.

But Ms. Mattias's group and some other advocates oppose involuntary commitment because it “creates an adversary relationship that really poisons any relationship with providers, with caregivers,” she says. “This is one of the lingering fears that people who are living with mental illness have when you start to talk about involuntary commitment – you raise this specter of, ‘They’re going to put me away and throw away the key.’ ”

According to Fox, Joshua Flashman, a US Marine and an acquaintance of the Lanzas, said Ms. Lanza “was petitioning the court for conservatorship and wanted to have him committed…. Adam was apparently very upset about this. He thought she just wanted to send him away.”

Fox was not able to confirm that with a court official, who said such records are sealed.

Later Thursday, the New York Daily News reported that a family friend said Ms. Lanza had brought her son to a psychiatrist as he became increasingly antisocial. But the unnamed friend said Ms. Lanza was not planning to have him committed. “Nancy was so dedicated to Adam,” the friend said. “She would never send him away. She just couldn’t do that.”

Experts say it is plausible that Mr. Lanza’s actions could have been triggered by anger over the possibility of forced treatment. “Generally we know that a great many violent acts, particularly between intimates, are triggered by moments of perceived loss,” says Christopher Ferguson, a professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. There’s a heightened possibility of violence, for instance, after a stalker or abuser is charged or served with a restraining order, he notes.

But even if people are willing to be committed, it’s not easy to get such treatment, because the US moved away from the asylum system in the 1950s and ’60s, Ferguson says.

There were good reasons for this, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far and made it overly difficult for people to get mental health treatment, voluntarily or otherwise, he and some others suggest.


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