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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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“The funding is so limited that the average length of stay is three to seven days, but most psychiatric medications take two to six weeks to kick in,” says Professor Gold of Georgetown.

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There should be an easier way for people to at least be “contained” temporarily to calm down if someone close to them can see that they are in crisis and could become dangerous, says Gold. “These crises pass. These people don’t wake up every day of their lives [homicidal],” she says.

The details certainly aren’t clear yet about what kind of treatment, if any, Ms. Lanza previously sought, or wanted in the future, for Mr. Lanza.

She had talked about moving to Washington State with her son because of a school there that she thought could help him, according to a Concord Monitor article that quoted Mark Tambascio, an owner of My Place, a Newtown restaurant frequented by Ms. Lanza.

Other media outlets have reported that Mr. Lanza spent time in a variety of school settings and had also been home-schooled by his mother.

Parents of troubled young people may need therapeutic support themselves, says Mattias of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There’s a strong stigma in society where parents get the message that their child’s problems are somehow the parents’ fault, she says, and “parents over time can become isolated…. It’s very very hard to handle these things on your own.”

Mothers are the highest percentage of the people murdered by mentally ill young men, Gold adds. “The [young men] are usually living at home because they are dysfunctional…. The moms don’t bail. These are their children. They hang in with them, they try to get them help. And they’re the ones that get killed.”

But mental-health advocates caution against drawing overly broad conclusions. “You can’t predict what the reaction would be [to a family member seeking to impose treatment] or whether it would increase dangerousness,” says Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Advocates also urge a renewed commitment to prevention, so that fewer caregivers end up having to make such difficult choices

There have been comprehensive reports on how to improve mental-health care, dating back to President Carter's administration, says Robert Bernstein, president and CEO of The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington. Early intervention and prevention are key, he says, but “when funding gets cut those are the first programs to go.… What we have now is a system that only in rare instances does anything preventive.”

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