The Thinking 

When the Insane Are Medicated Instead of Institutionalized

December 18, 2012


JIM GOAD at Taki’s Mag cites the medication history of killers who have gone on shooting sprees:

• An autopsy concluded that Columbine killer Eric Harris had the SSRI antidepressant Fluvoxamine in his bloodstream at the time of his death.

• Jeff Weise, who killed nine people and himself at a Minnesota high school in 2005, was taking increasingly high doses of Prozac at the time of his spree.

• Robert Hawkins, who killed eight people and himself at an Omaha mall in 2007, reportedly “had been on antidepressants” at the time of his shooting. He allegedly had taken antidepressants since he was six years old.

• Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 and wounded 23 at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been prescribed Prozac and had previously taken Paxil for a year, but he apparently had ceased taking his medication at the time of the shooting.

• Andrew Engeldinger killed five people and himself after being fired from his job in 2012. A police search of his house revealed he’d been prescribed the antidepressants Mirtazapine and Trazodone, as well as the insomnia medication Temazepam.

• Eduardo Sencion, who killed four people and himself with an assault rifle at a Utah IHOP in 2011, was a paranoid schizophrenic whose “medications were changed” during the summer prior to his attack.

• Robert Kenneth Stewart, who murdered eight people at a North Carolina nursing home in 2009, submitted to a blood test that revealed he had Lexapro, Ambien, Benadryl, and Xanax in his system at the time of his spree.

• Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five people and himself on Valentine’s Day in 2008, had allegedly been prescribed Xanax, Ambien, and Prozac, although according to his girlfriend he had stopped taking Prozac prior to the massacre.

• James Eagan Holmes, who shot up a Colorado movie theater in July, reportedly took 100MG of Vicodin before the shooting. He had also allegedly seen three school psychiatrists prior to his attack. Although his psychiatric records are privileged information, in his mug shot he appears to be medicated up to the eyeballs.

And Adam Lanza, slayer of over two dozen people on Friday, appears to have had a classic pair of Medication Eyes himself. He was also reportedly “troubled” and possibly “autistic.” A neighbor of Lanza’s claims he was taking medication. [cont.]

—- Comments —-

Jill Farris writes:

The title of your post implies that all of these killers were insane and needed to be institutionalized instead of medicated. I disagree that all of them were insane or had problems to the point of institutionalization. Perhaps, in some way, these killers were mentally insane but not from birth. Insanity can develop from neglect, rage and hatred.

The “details that are emerging” (a phrase repeated in every news story) on Adam Lanza’s life seem to be common to many boys growing up today. The boys were very smart, their parents divorced and they were “deeply troubled” by it. The killer spent a lot of time alone — alone in a big house with a stay-at-home mother who seemed to spend little time with him.

The neighbors and friends all gushed over how “nice” the mother was. The killer, apparently, had learning problems to the point of being labeled with Aspergers. Aspergers (like many other labels) is a way for “health professionals” (like psychiatrists) to bill the insurance companies. Yes, there are definite behaviors that children with Aspergers have in common but some of those behaviors are common to many children from divorced homes and very “nice” mothers.

Why do I harp on the “nice” mother reference that keeps popping up in news stories? Because some of the nicest mothers I know are really bad, neglectful mothers. Sure, they don’t beat their children to a pulp or call them ugly names but they neglect them. Often, they neglect them in fancy homes where the children are all alone.

If the news stories are even bordering on truth, why do so many accounts say that folks in the community never saw the boy?Even women who played a regular card game with Mrs. Lanza for many years never saw him? Seriously?

Also, how “nice” is she to let her kid entertain himself alone in his bedroom for hours on end? As the mother of teens with their own laptops, I’m not very nice when I kick their lazy hineys out of their rooms and check to see what they are watching on their computers. I’m not nice, but I’m being a good mother.

I’ve just been rereading the excellent book first published in the early 90’s, Home by Choice, by Brenda Hunter Ph.D.

Dr. Hunter made the difficult choice as a single mom to stay home home with her young girls and has never regretted it (this was many years before she continued her education and became a psychologist. By the way, I read and listen to what she has to say because it flows from her mother-heart and not her psychological training.

I would like to quote from her chapter Kids who Kill.

“Child killers are made, not born. Now, I know that in saying this I will raise hackles and antagonize many who would like to blame Hollywood, guns, the media, television and video games for the upsurge in teen violence. Obviously, these influences are bombarding our children and teenagers daily. And, it is true that most of the kids who kill have had access to guns in their own homes. However, when a child grows up to be a killer, something has gone dreadfully awry in his nurturing history. Since personality is shaped from the womb, the child who kills had an impoverished or abusive attachment relationship with his parents, particularly his mother. (emphasis hers).

Unable to establish an emotional bond with the first person he ever tries to love, he grows up with weak or absent parental attachments. He is at risk for becoming a kid who kills. This absence of attachment is the key to understanding why some kids are so destructive….

Children who feel loved and valued by their parents do not kill. Nor are they sitting ducks to dark and perverse cultural influences. Loved children who are emotionally close to their parents develop a core sense of self and want to please their parents. They also possess a resilience to peer pressure that unloved, unattached children lack. Moreover, they are not severely depressed, walking time bombs waiting to explode….

I understand that parents in this country are uncomfortable with looking for causes on the home front. Many feel guilty about neglecting their children. But home is where we must go if we’re ever to understand why kids kill and change this negative cultural trend….” (She examines the killers at Columbine and others in this chapter).

Laura writes:

My columns are very narrow, and I originally wanted to title the entry “When the Insane and Demonic are Medicated Instead of Institutionalized,” but visually, it didn’t work.

While I would be the last to minimize the importance of maternal love, discipline and an ordered home, and while I entirely agree with Jill that Nancy Lanza appears to have been a negligent mother — not because she didn’t care for her son, but because she did not provide a good environment for him and divorced his father, which almost certainly had an enormous impact on him — I think it is too simplistic to blame these killings exclusively on parental failure or negligence. Mental illnesses are real, and they may overcome the best of circumstances. Here’s a story from one mother. In the case of the Columbine killers, their home and family lives do not seem adequately to explain what occurred. Eric Harris appeared to have been a case of demonic possession. I have knew one boy who from a very early age, before four years old, exhibited sociopathic traits, in which he had an inability to feel any empathy for other human beings. Everything written on his face when he was four bore fruit when he was an adult. He became a hardened criminal and eventually was either murdered or committed suicide in jail. Yes, his home life was very flawed, but it could not have fully explained who he was.

Whether it is insanity due to congenital conditions or insanity due to sin (on the societal level as well) or a poor upbringing, real, functioning communities respond by separating such persons and confining them in some way.

Laura continues:

I strongly believe that when a society reaches a state of nihilism and decadence such as ours, the incidence of these cases inevitably increases. They are caused by the total environment.

 Kathlene M. writes:

I think there’s another element, besides mind-altering powerful drugs, that can also damage young brains:  violent video games.    The Sun reports that Adam Lanza played hours of the violent military-style-killing video game “Call of Duty.”  The article points out that Anders Breivik and Mohammed Merah also played “Call of Duty” before committing mass murders.

The video game industry had 2012 global estimated revenues of $67 billion, according to Forbes magazine, so this lobby is a growing money-making force, alongside the pharmaceutical and gun lobbies.  When critics suggest that feeding violent images of murder and destruction to young impressionable minds is not healthy or normal, and that this diet of violence could cause some people to act out, the scoffers and name-callers come out.

My lying eyes tell me that, just as violent misogynistic rap music has had a negative effect on black culture, violent video games produce negative behavior and probably contribute to the increasingly coarse culture around us.  I’ve reached this conclusion based on my personal observation of my son’s various classmates through the years.   I’ve seen enough violent video-game-loving young boys acting aggressively to conclude that video games contribute to their personal problem-behaviors.  So if we combine mental disorders with mind-altering drugs and violent games, in a society where morals are unraveling, there is a recipe for trouble.

Laura writes:

Absolutely. All these things are factors.

It’s not just the content of video games that is harmful, it’s the activity of watching video games itself. They do not involve social interaction in the way normal play does and they thus aggravate anti-social tendencies.

Meredith writes:

I’ve been following the discussion on your website about the horrific tragedy in Connecticut and I now finally have a chance to write and add my two cents.

As you know I have five children, four boys and one girl. My third child, a son who is nine, is austistic, diagnosed with PDD-NOS about six years ago.

We had no notion that my third son was anything but normal when he was born. I noticed that he self soothed by rocking his head from side to side, and he was generally my easiest baby, hardly ever crying, always smiling, hitting all of his milestones, except talking. We’d mentioned this to our pediatrician along with the rocking behavior, and he advised us to wait, but when he hit 24 months we were advised to take him to a speech therapist. Our journey into the world of therapy began.

I could write pages and pages about our experiences with therapists and the special education programs at our local school, which we turned to because we could not afford therapy privately, and with his condition in general, but suffice it to say that finally, after the school tried unsuccessfully to mainstream him (he could not handle the workload and was not understanding the material, which I had serious concerns with anyway) and had decreased his therapy to about five minutes a week, I pulled him out and began homeschooling him along with my other children. Currently he is doing well, is much happier, and is basically doing the equivalent of first grade work along with my daughter. He, unlike many autistic children, is very social and gregarious, but he still does a lot of repetitive behaviors and is very sensitive to noise and visual stimuli. He is not violent, but he is very suggestible, and can be easily led to do things he shouldn’t. At home, I can make sure that he is getting a lot of good wholesome food, plenty of sunshine and fresh air, plenty of rest, good curriculum and a big healthy dose of the Gospel.

But he presents a lot of issues for my husband and me. His neurologist believes he will grow out of it. He still can’t tie shoes and is completely flabbergasted if an article of clothing is turned inside out. He gets very carsick and sometimes suffers migraines. And he has some very annoying habits. I don’t know if he will ever be able to work. So, we have concluded that he may need to live with us after all of our other kids have fledged and gone out on their own. I have a lot of reservations about ever having him institutionalized (over my dead body!)

Now before someone out there says I am naive about this, they should know that once upon a time, before I was married and had children I was a starry eyed, liberal, psychology major who thought she could change the world. I took a semester off from college to work at a private, state funded, residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed children who had aggression levels of 5 and 6. As soon as a child was bumped down to a 4 they were shipped out to another facility. It was here that I was educated about the evil of mankind. We had patients who were as old as 18 and as young as 2. Male and female, in different dorms. I worked with the adolescent, middle-school aged, girls. We had girls there who had been forced on out the street by older brothers or uncles to sell themselves or drugs or both, three generations of little girls from one family (the mother and the grandmother had all been patients there), two girls who had been molested by their grandfather, horribly abused, attempted suicides, the list is endless and terribly sad. One girl, who was mentally retarded, had been placed there by her mother because of her aggression levels toward her mother. She was the only patient I ever saw who had a visitor. Another girl was schizophrenic, and her crafty caseworker had somehow pulled strings to get her placed there, because the other facilities in town were much worse. She had to be watched constantly because she would self mutilate, and heavily medicated, which didn’t always work. If they turned 18 while still there they could just leave after they graduated, if they had shown improvement. They didn’t necessarily have to go to another facility. Most of the time they didn’t have any kind of a criminal record that would necessitate them staying in the system at that point.

All of them were caught in a system that exploited them. Since the facility was state funded, they received money for each patient. The more aggressive a patient was the more money the facility received per day for that patient. So, there wasn’t really an incentive to bump a patient down. Instead, inexperienced staff was hired (like me!) and the kids were repeatedly put in situations that were almost sure to cause an outburst. Almost all of my co-workers were lesbians, some with degrees in social work. Some staff members had favorites and some children were outcasts and always in trouble. Being able to physically restrain a patient in a basket hold was very important, but the training for restraints was only a thirty minute session. Since I was about 110 lbs at the time, most of the kids were actually larger than me (the schizophrenic girl was 160 lbs, and would not even fit in a papoose style straight jacket) which made restraining very difficult. There was no fences surrounding the facility so they could just walk away into the surrounding neighborhood if they wanted to. There were staff members that had been attacked, bitten, bludgeoned, cut, but they wouldn’t quit because they also got a free apartment for working there and would have to move if they left the job. I finally left after four grueling months with an ulcer that required medication. I went back to school, scored an A+ in my abnormal psych class, and then promptly changed my major to art.

All this is to say that I have some experiences that others don’t. It might very well be that Mrs. Lanza was truly doing what she believed to be right by her son. It may be that her husband left because he couldn’t take being around his son anymore, who may have been sapping all of her attention and love from her husband. I have no idea really and none of us really do. I don’t believe that a facility would have been able to keep him, and I know that questionable, very expensive therapies, for autism often don’t work and will bankrupt a family financially because insurance won’t pay for most of it. I do know that everyone says he was a loner. I wonder if maybe someone could have reached out to him instead of just brushing him aside as a creep or a weirdo. It is very possible that he couldn’t have been committed if he had never acted aggressively before.

One big question I have for fellow Christians is where are you? Are we all reaching out as we should to these people?

Laura writes:

I hope your son continues to do well.

I do not think Adam Lanza is typical of autism cases and if he was autistic, his mother aggravated the condition by keeping him isolated and playing video games.

When I spoke of institutionalization, I was speaking of those who are seriously disturbed and irrational.

Lydia Sherman writes:

I believe it was just one day before the Conneticut tragedy that a man shot several people in a mall in Portland Oregon. However there was another man there with a concealed weapon which he drew out and pointed at the gunman, who upon seeing it, shot himself.

The next day we heard about the school shooting on the East Coast, and the story here was not ever exposed nationally, even though to the victims it was tragic.

On Sunday at church I realized the doors of the facility are always unlocked, and the services are open to the public, and to anyone who would walk in with a gun with intent to kill. I believe that every church should arrange for one of their male members to have a concealed weapon under their jacket or suit coat.

I have not heard if the Clackamus mall shooter was on dope, but it is likely.

Alissa writes:

Here’s something I found.

 And I quote:

The fact that the mother was shot 4 times in the face really has not registered to anyone in the media. They actually paint this woman as decent with a “hushed home life”. I actually had to do a bit of searching to even find how she died.

Well he shot her in the head…anyway he moved on to the school…and no reporter saw any significance in that? They give the impression that being a nutcase is only internal. Never cultivated from something external such as a shitty parent.

The fact that it was the first thing he did never registered to them either. They are seemingly pushing the angle that it was only to get the guns.

Nothing says I hate someone to their very core like shooting them point blank in the face. And no one gets that kind of hate for absolutely no reason.

What do you think?

Laura writes:

He also shot himself.

Sibyl writes:

Thank you for mentioning what your headline for this particular piece would have been — “When the insane and demonic are medicated …”

This is one thing that I think we as Christians need to remember and talk about. These terrible crimes, so senseless, so full of malice, cannot only be ascribed to the insanity and rage of the young men who commit them. This school shooting really reveals the influence of our enemy. I think he uses the weakness and rage of the mentally ill boy to suggest this type of incredible destruction, and then when the young man follows up on that temptation, the enemy gets rid of him by suggesting suicide. He destroys his tools, as C.S. Lewis once wrote.

This is not, of course, to say that there is nothing to be done for the poor souls who suffer from mental illness, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it is real and that there are strategies for at least managing it in some cases. But a very practical and very timely thing to do is to redouble our prayer against evil, and to realize that the hatred so evident in these mass murders is, first and foremost, the hatred which sought to ruin the human race from the very beginning. In fact, one wonders if, in some of these cases, along with therapy, institutionalization, and perhaps medication, exorcism might not be every bit as indicated.

 Laura writes:

All insanity is demonic. It is a spiritual condition as well as a physical and mental one.

Simon writes:

Let’s not forget that correlation does not equal causation.

 Laura writes:

Medication did not necessarily cause or influence these crimes. However, those who are deranged and seriously disturbed are more often treated with medication today, and rarely institutionalized. So there are two issues with regard to medication: the actual effects of the drugs and the failure to remove those who are irrational from the community.

Jonathan C. writes:

I think you and your commenters are missing the crucial point: some of the mass murders in Jim Goad’s list may have been CAUSED by the medications he lists. It’s not implausible that all of them were caused by psychotropic drugs.

Writers like David Healy and Roger Whitaker have pointed out that a sizable minority of people become violent after starting to take SSRIs, including many who experience suicidal ideation and fantasize about killing themselves or others in extremely grisly ways. These symptoms often are at their worst after the medication is withdrawn. See for more information.

There is a growing body of evidence that many modern psychiatric drugs worsen or even make permanent the very distress they are alleged to cure.

 Laura writes:

I posted Jim Goad’s piece because the role medications play in these crimes is of concern — of far more concern, as Goad notes and other commenters have pointed out in previous entries on the Lanza murders, than the phony issue of gun control.

Stogie writes:

The ignorance surrounding antidepressant drugs and violent mental patients is one of my pet peeves. Taki magazine is not one that holds a lot of credibility for me.

The implication that antidepressants cause violent behavior is false and misleading. Are there any scientific or medical studies that show antidepressants, which are more like tranquilizers than stimulants, cause violent behavior? No. Such conclusions are only offered by the untrained who put two and two together to get five. You might as well note that a large percentage of people who have pacemakers die of heart failure and a large number of people undergoing chemotherapy die of cancer. The obviously dopey conclusion is that the former in each case resulted in the latter; however, correlation is not causation. I expand on this at my blog, here.

Laura writes:

I am not an expert on the issue. It is something that should be discussed and examined. And, as I said, regardless of the effects of medication, institutionalization is much less common today, partly because treatment centers around medication. That was Goad’s point too.

Daniel S. writes:

I am not sure that this is the right topic for this, but I thought it necessary to point out the possible, indeed probable, role that literal demonic influence played in this act of mass murder of children by the malevolent Adam Lanza. As the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper observes in his book The End of Time, “There are people who, although they talk about demonic things and persons, would never admit that there are demons.” To the contrary, Pieper informs us: the existence of “the Evil One” as a purely spiritual being must be accepted (p. 122). Now to be clear, Pieper is speaking about the relationship between the Antichrist and the Devil, but it is clear his words have a much wider application, especially as it pertains to the “demonic” acts of men.

The Christian scholar Jean-Claude Larchet in his book Mental Disorders and Spiritual Healing demonstrates the traditional Christian understanding of insanity and other mental disorders, specifically the Church Fathers’ recognition of the role that demonic entities play in a man’s descent into madness. He also notes that modern psychology “chooses to ignore demonic etiology,” as it fails to fit with scientism and materialism.

Modern man has turned his back of God, on truth, and on goodness, instead blindly chasing vain, empty idols hoping to stave off the Abyss. Clearly not all men are able to content themselves with consumerism and meaningless sex, instead, embracing the nihilism that lays behind all of modernity. And behind nihilism lays the great deceiver and enemy of humanity. As the French metaphysician Rene Guenon observed that when a man closes himself off to Heaven he is literal placed at the mercy of infernal forces.

Laura writes:

Thank you.

I take it as axiomatic that among the fundamental causes of these killings sprees are the pervasive nihilism and demonic evil of our culture, which is not to say that there aren’t other specific issues of concern, such as the schools themselves, the importance of arming citizens and the presence of the disturbed in the community.

Zippy Catholic writes:

Stogie asked:

Are there any scientific or medical studies that show antidepressants, which are more like tranquilizers than stimulants, cause violent behavior?

 Yes, there are.  Here is a paper that surveys some of that large body of scientific evidence.

It has been decisively proven that these drugs actually cause violent and suicidal behavior: not just that people who are already crazy and violent take them, but that the drugs actually cause violence and suicide in a significant number of patients.

In addition, the “chemical imbalance” Serotonin theory of depression has been completely discredited.  Despite this it is still vigorously sold to the public by drug companies and the psychiatric profession.

Anyone who is on long-term medication — even for blood pressure — owes it to himself to read the book Pharmageddon by Dr. David Healy.   Healy is not anti-drug, but he brings a scientific and clinical realism to the table that is sorely lacking in our pharmacomedical establishment.

[The discussion continues HERE.]

Eric writes:

Regarding the comment by Lydia, the independent Baptist church that I attend does not have that problem. My pastor carries a concealed weapon, as do I and some of the deacons. We also assign one man (yes, always a man) to the security detail each Sunday and Wednesday. Anybody who would attempt any mayhem when we are having service would be sorely disappointed with the outcome. In fact, I am holding a concealed handgun permit class in January for whomever in the church wants to attend, and charging only $25 to cover the course materials. (And if we have an interested member who can’t hack the $25, it will be gratis.)

We Christians need to develop our skill at arms, and their mental clarity to be willing to use them at the appropriate time and place. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who has written numerous books and who is a motivational speaker to military and law enforcement, encapsulates the role of the protector, or “sheep dog” in his classic essay, “On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs,” found here.

We Christians are sheep, in the care of our Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But some of us are called to be sheep dogs and help our Shepherd in protecting the flock. I have been called to be one, and so be it. And woe be unto anyone who tries to do anything when and where I am around. While I want to live to 95 just like everyone else, I accept that my calling and response to it may get me killed while protecting someone some day. I cannot think of a better way to meet my Lord than to die in the noble cause of doing so.

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