Why Expand Psychiatry with Involuntary Commitment?

by | Jun 30, 2014


Each time a citizen goes on an unpredicted shooting spree we hear pleas for more involuntary commitment laws and programs.
Psychiatry has been playing a fiddle tune entitled “If he’d only gotten proper mental health care in time this tragedy could have been avoided” for so long that its become an annoying out-of-tune screech.
The facts almost invariably show us that the person on a rampage had already been under psychiatric care and medication for some time prior to losing all control and committing a violent act.
WSUF here in Tampa, Florida was quick to publish an NPR story entitled “The Divide Over Involuntary Mental Health Treatment” following the shootings at the University of California, Santa Barbara by Elliot Rodger in which he killed six people and then himself.
NPR claims this Rodger’s attack is “renewing focus on programs aimed at requiring treatment for people who are mentally ill as a way to prevent mass shootings and other violence.”
California has Laura’s Law enacted in 2002 which allows government authorities to require outpatient mental health care to those who have been voluntarily refusing it. Involuntary outpatient care was intended to be a more palatable program to feed to the public compared to a program of direct involuntary commitment into a psychiatric facility.
NPR laments that it hasn’t been too popular and that only 2 counties in California (Nevada and Orange) have implemented the program and there is no state funding for it.
In Nevada County, Judge Tom Anderson, a big supporter of the program, commented, “The beauty of the program — the wonderment of it to me — is that roughly about 60 percent of the people that they do outreach to, where they go out to intervene after a person has been referred, voluntarily accept services at that time.”
Even he is surprised someone would agree to psychiatric care!
The real truth is that psychiatric mental health care invariably harms the person whether it is provided in an out patient setting or inside a psychiatric ward or hospital facility.
What benefit could possibly come from prescribing mind numbing drugs or electroshock treatments? And how could these treatments protect the public and prevent violent psychotic rages and murders by these victims?
Clearly psychiatric care doesn’t prevent these acts. It quite likely creates them.
In fact, Laura’s Law is named for Laura Wilcox who worked at California’s Nevada County Behavioral Health clinic. She was killed when a patient named Scott Harlan Thorpe came to his appointment and opened fire in the clinic killing her and another clinic worker.  Authorities said they believed Thorpe was unhappy with the mental health care he received at the county clinic.
Early press reports said nothing about Mr. Thorpe refusing treatment. The reports said he was undergoing treatment at the mental health clinic where he killed two people. The treatment was for agoraphobia (fear of public crowds). But his mother said he had been also diagnosed for depression and anxiety.
Five months after the shooting, the LA Times published a story, “A Case Against Liberty” by Alex Raksin and Bob Sipchen. These authors claimed for the first time in the press that Thorpe was refusing to take his medications. This story won them a Pulitzer Prize. It was followed by lots of press claiming Laura’s Law could have prevented the murders by forcing this known mentally ill man to take his medications. But at Thorpe’s trial in 2003, his defense psychologist, Donald Stembridge, testified that at the time of the shooting Thorpe was taking his prescribed anti-depressants, and that these anti-depressants “would have worsened his condition”.
Even Laura Wilcox’s parents testified that the law wouldn’t have worked for Thorpe because he didn’t meet criteria for treatment under provisions of the new law.
Yet the law was passed following a rash of such news stories quoting the proponents of involuntary commitment and the claim that Thorpe had refused to take his medications.
It’s a familiar pattern in the USA – the press under pressure from psychiatry, drug companies and politicians on the mental health band wagon fail to report that a mass killer was on psychiatric drugs or withdrawing from them. Then it’s easy to call for more mental health prevention programs.
In the early news reports by the LA Times it was stated that Eliot Roger had resisted taking any psychiatric medications. The paper quoted a family friend…”he had been in therapy since childhood. He was prescribed psychotropic drugs but declined to take them
But after Elliot turned 18, he started rejecting mental health care that his family provided, Krentzman said. “He turned his back on all of it,” he said. “At some point, your kid becomes an adult.”
But a few weeks later the true story came out in other publications including press in the UK.
Elliot Rodger‘s parents Peter & Li Chin spoke to law enforcement officials stating that their son had been taking Xanax in the days before the horrific murders and that it had been prescribed by a family doctor. After researching the side affects of Xanax, the Rodgers feared Elliot could have been abusing the anti-anxiety medication. They also believe the tranquilizer “made him more withdrawn, lonely, isolated, and anxious.”
“Elliot had been taking Xanax for awhile, according to his parents … there were fears he might have been addicted to it, or taking more than was prescribed,” a law enforcement source told RadarOnline.com. “The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Department will be conducting formal interviews with Elliot’s doctors, and will review his medical and prescription drug records.
Ironically, sheriff’s deputies visited Elliot weeks earlier at his family’s request. Shirley Jahad reported that the deputies spoke to Rodger and didn’t think he qualified for a “5150” detention, which would have put him under psychiatric care for 72 hours. They said he was “Courteous and polite.” and “timid and shy.”
Elliot described the April 30th visit by six deputies differently in the long email he left behind:
“I heard a knock on my apartment door. I opened it to see seven police officers asking for me.” He wrote that “the biggest fear I had ever felt in my life overcame me.”
He had three semi-automatic weapons in his bedroom and had written up plans for his assault.
“I tactfully told them that it was all a misunderstanding and they finally left. If they had demanded to search my room.. that would have ended everything,” “For a few horrible seconds I thought it was all over. When they left, the biggest wave of relief swept over me.”
Xanax is far from an innocent tranquilizer. It has these potential side effects:
—    Rage and hostility
—    Aggression – including assault
—    Violence
—    Suicides
—    Hallucinations
—    Thinking about harming yourself or trying to do so
—    Unusual changes in behavior or mood
—    Homicidal behavior
—    Unusual risk-taking behavior
—    Decreased inhibitions
—    No fear of danger
—    Withdrawal
Calling for easier Involuntary Commitment Laws is folly when such drugs are the required mental health treatment.
Janet Napolitano, is an experienced government official. She served as Attorney General of Arizona, Governor of Arizona, and Secretary of Homeland Security before taking her current job as President of the University of California. After giving the commencement speech at Laney College in Oakland, CA, she commented on the Elliot Rodger shooting at UC Santa Barbara.
“This is almost the kind of event that’s impossible to prevent and almost impossible to predict.”
That’s where proponents of involuntary commitment find themselves today – unable to predict and unable to prevent.


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