Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lowry: Stop tiptoeing around the problem of mental illness 

But Virginia Tech also had to cope with an extremely strict state commitment law that requires that someone represent an ''imminent danger'' to himself or others before he can be compelled to seek treatment. A judge ruled in 2005 that Cho met this standard, but nothing much came of it (although he reportedly was on an antidepressant). Virginia hasn't caught up to other states that have begun to recover from the excesses of deinstitutionalization and have made it easier to compel treatment.

According to an extensive survey in The New York Times a few years ago, about half of rampage killings are committed by mentally ill people, a much higher percentage than the roughly 5 percent that commit all murders. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, president of the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, believes there has been a rise in such killings in the past 20 years, which coincides with the period when we have dumped many severely mentally ill people out into society without treating them.

There is, of course, a balance to be struck between civil liberties and treating the mentally ill. But that balance is now badly off-kilter. Cho Seung-Hui was basically abandoned to his private mental hell at Virginia Tech. While he hatched his lunatic and hateful plot, everyone tried to ignore the scary guy in class behind the sunglasses.

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