Posted on August 7, 2012
So much is still unknown about James Holmes, the accused shooter in Colorado, but inevitably the question of his mental health arises. As most people know by now, he was being seen by a psychiatrist who, in fact, did report a problem to the campus police. Soon after, he dropped out of school, so campus police didn’t pursue it.
The facts of this case will evolve over time, but what will we recommend for the next time?
My friend E. Fuller Torre says we should improve the community commitment laws, and I’m sure my friends at the Bazelon Center would say we need to protect the rights of the individual. I’m really not sure who is right, but on the ground, in practical everyday interactions, what can be done? Since this man was seeing a psychiatrist, he was already getting more services than many people in similar situations on many campuses.
Why didn’t someone take more action? The problem is not just a medical issue but a cultural one – tremendous stigma still follows serious mental health conditions. While reporting a person may prevent a violent act, it also brands that person with the scarlet letter of mental illness. Once you bear this brand, it affects your whole life: your friends, your family, your job, your school.
Someone from the university should have been able to ensure that Holmes received continuous, aggressive help. But they didn’t. And he didn’t. I don’t blame the school; I say that we are all responsible, because we perpetuate the problem. We have stigmatized these illnesses in such a way that it is impossible for caring, responsible people to do what needs to be done. And until we figure out how to eradicate this stigma, inadequate care – and the host of problems it causes - will continue.
Kenneth J. Dudek
Kenneth J. Dudek
President, Fountain House