Arizona Shootings & The Silent Minority: People Suffering From Serious Mental Illness

Dr. Tracy Latz, M.D., M.S. is a respected, board-certified, practicing integrative psychiatrist who has worked in the past “in the trenches” in a regional state psychiatric hospital and in local county mental health center systems in North Carolina as well as in community hospital settings. She has done both inpatient and outpatient work with the seriously mentally ill. Dr. Latz received her bachelor degree in Biology from Wake Forest University, a masters degree in Immunobiology from Georgetown University, and her medical degree from Wake Forest University Medical School/Bowman Gray School of Medicine. She is now in solo private integrative psychiatric practice in a suburb of Charlotte, NC in Mooresville, NC. She has co-written 2 books on personal transformation, recorded 2 meditation CDs to assist others with creating inner peace, written a landmark article on PTSD/Dissociative Disorders in a peer-reviewed journal, and has contributed to or been interviewed by many mainstream media outlets including CNN, Good Housekeeping, SELF, Glamour, AOL Health, Woman’s Day, Fitness, Whole Living, and Health – to name a few. You can find out more about Dr. Latz at www.shiftyourlife.com

Arizona Shootings & The Silent Minority: People Suffering From Serious Mental Illness

Everyone seems outraged today by the recent shootings in Arizona that was perpetrated by an allegedly mentally ill man – yet where is the public outrage over the lack of funding for mental health services for or education regarding available treatment for the seriously mentally ill that contributes to such a situation arising in the first place? We had the same public outcry after the Columbine school shootings or various “Bell Tower Shootings” on college campuses. The only difference with the Arizona shooting is that it was a politician that was attacked and now the politicians are all in fear for their own lives. They think it might be contagious… and the fear is contagious. Why don’t they consider changing this into a positive event and funding mental health care and public education about what can be done to get treatment for people who “are acting strange” as most of the shooters in the past were for weeks to months prior to deadly actions. Involuntary commitment laws in every state allow for forced evaluation of any person immediately if there is concern about possible mental illness and potential harm to self or others. How many people know this? And why don’t people know this if it is a law in every state? And if they do know this, then why don’t they act?

Mental illness is a serious medical condition that affects one in four families. No one is to blame for mental illness. Treatment can and does work, but only half of people living with mental illness receive treatment. Why is this? Denial, social stigma, historic insurance company discrimination against coverage or payment if you have mental illness, and the fact that politicians always target mental health funding to cut first whenever there is an economic downturn or they need to cut monies from a budget… because seriously mentally ill people are the silent minority. They are not likely to raise a public outcry because they are often too depressed, anxious, paranoid or frankly psychotic to either follow what goes on in the legislature or to speak up.

Cutbacks in mental health funding leads to no case managers to monitor the most seriously mentally ill patients and coordinate mental health visits or forced hospitalizations when these people are non-compliant with medication or severely decompensate in their psychiatric condition. Cutbacks in mental health funding leads to fewer psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers in mental health centers and psychiatric hospitals to evaluate people for potential dangerous ideation or need for psychiatric treatment.

Most of the people with mental illness are not in community treatment centers at all. According to the U.S. Justice Department, 24% of the nation’s jail inmates and 16% of the prison inmates have a mental disorder, a number that has increased at least 3-fold over the past 30 years- and has increased substantially since deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients in the 1960s. According to the Justice Department numbers, the single largest provider of mental health services is the Los Angeles County Jail where my co-author and I have taught classes on personal transformation.

Loads of Light to all who are dealing with or have loved ones who are dealing with mental illness,

Tracy Latz, M.D. (a.k.a. “The Shift Doctor”)

**The Shift Doctors (Tracy Latz, M.D. & Marion Ross, Ph.D.) are available for keynote talks, classes, events or for seminars (1/2 day or up to 2 day) on personal transformation, team-building, motivation, anger management, intuitive development, or collaboration for private groups, conferences, corporations or corporate events. Contact them at info@shiftyourlife.com or find out more about them at www.shiftyourlife.com .

7 Comments

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  1. I couldn’t agree more, thank you for your expertise and advocacy for individuals who too often ‘fall through the cracks’ in our society.

  2. I had never been aware of this issue before as noone in my family suffers from mental illness. Wow! This is something that needs to be looked at more closely, for sure. Thanks for bringing it to my awareness.

  3. Although I do agree with the fact of the outrage about the funding being cut on mental health issues yet I totally disagree with Involuntary commitment and I totally disagree with the statement about how mental health patients are not able to keep up with legislation etc. being that I am a mental health consumer!

    I am a mental health advocate in my state I am on two consumer lead boards and I have represented my state in the Southern Region Consumer/Survivors Meeting in Atlanta, GA in which I had to deliver a speech about the condition of my state’s mental health issues. SAMHSA was the one that brought this meeting together and they are a federal organization.
    I have bipolar 1 disorder I am living in recovery and I have seen how these involuntary commitment cases go. For the most part family members will do this to the mental health patient to collect the patients disability check. Also the fact that people are famous for stereo-typing each other many would be placed in much more danger by being thrown into a mental hospital and subjected to drugs when there is not an issue at hand. What would stop someone from involuntarily committing an individual who has no mental health issue who maybe just quiet and withdrawn not due to a mental health issue.

    I am all for educating the public but also educating individuals who suffer with a mental health disorder on their rights and to help them draw out a good treatment plan so that way they are not falsely committed and they are not used and abused as in times past. NAMI (National Alliances on Mental Illness) has a wonderful program called Peer to Peer. This program educates the individual with a mental health disorder on their rights and even offers a real form of directive care that the individual with a mental health disorder can fill out for their own care in a crisis situation and this form can be notarized. So that way when they need the medical help then their love ones and the law has to abide by the patients wishes, instead of totally denying the patient their rights.

    The government has failed in this area I agree but so has the general public instead people want to believe the myths about mental illness they keep these myths alive in movies, books, and other forms of entertainment. Truth is there is 9 million Americans who suffer with a mental illness and out of that 9 million only 14% commit horrible crimes as the man in Arizona did.

    To really help we need to have balance, fairness, integrity, and the resources to stay in recovery. Not by further taking the rights away from those like myself who suffer with a mental illness. We have enough to deal with, with out having to defend ourselves against our fellow man who is afraid of us out of their own ignorance!

    • Nikki,
      You are certainly not a silent member; however, most of the chronically severely and persistently mentally ill patients that I have seen in state mental hospitals and in county mental health clinics are not as “with it” and as outspoken as you. I am thrilled that you are so involved in the political process and it would be great if more individuals like your self who has directly dealt with mental illness would become so involved. The ‘Peer-to-Peer’ program is indeed quite helpful and I have worked with the local NAMI in my region in NC in the past.

      If more people like you spoke up, then there would be much less stigma surrounding mental illness and there would be much more public awareness. However, many people (like you) who have recovered do not wish to tell their tale due to the on-going stigma in the public eye or due to embarrassment over how one views them self and what a diagnosis or ‘mental illness’ means to a given person in their own mind.

      If commitment laws are followed correctly, then a person must be evaluated by an M.D. or Ph.D. to determine if there is a mental illness AND evidence of dangerous to self or others involved before a person can be placed in a hospital for treatment. Then the person (IF they are placed in a hospital) must be further evaluated by a psychiatrist/M.D. to see if there is a second opinion that the detaining of the person is necessary (i.e. that they meet criteria for involuntary commitment). I am sorry to hear of your experience in GA; however, my experience in my 21 years of medical practice does not resonate with your experience. No one should be detained for any reason without compelling cause of dangerousness.

      Most violent crimes are NOT committed by chronically and persistently mentally ill persons. That being said, there are some people in an acutely psychotic or delusional state or in severe depressive states who may have dangerous ideation (thoughts) toward self or others. We do need to have compassion for both the mentally ill as well as for the public welfare. Balancing public education with compassionate legislation is certainly called for.

      Thanks so much for your heartfelt comments 🙂 Loads of Light to you- and keep your Light shining brightly as you continue your advocacy for the mentally ill!
      Tracy Latz, M.D.

  4. I think my earlier post was little to strong and I didn’t intend for it be that way. I do understand that there are those who can not speak for themselves and there have been times I couldn’t speak for myself. However what I do see and know first hand is how the system is abused meaning that the ones who are suppose to look out for the well being of the individual/s who can not speak for themselves take advantage of this. Especially in small rural areas. If a family member decides to have their family member who has a mental health issue committed even if the individual who suffers with a mental illness has the ability of their own self awareness and does not need to be committed, if the family member that is pushing for them to be committed and they know the judge, the doctor then yes it does happen against the will of the one who has the diagnoses of a mental health disorder and in often cases it is over money.

    I also know of a local case here in my own home town where a man was needing medical treatment. This man had a mental illness instead of sending him to get the medical attention he needed he ended up in a jail cell waiting for a bed to open up in a mental hospital which I am still asking questions about that myself however while this man waited for two weeks for medical attention he died of a massive heart attack.

    Which heart failure is another issue that individuals like myself have to watch for the 2nd leading cause of death in an individual with bipolar disorder is heart failure.

    I feel that this could have probably been prevented if he had of been medically taken care of. However these kind of cases are often raked up under the rug. I even spoke to a state representative about this and his words concerning the problem with putting non-criminals who have a mental health issue in a holding cell in a local jail is “This is how it has always been and as far as I am concerned that is how it will always be” this statement has stuck with me and hit home with me big time. It sent the message to me that it did not matter about this man’s life or for that fact my own life.

    The situation that happen in Arizona is truly tragic and my heart goes out to the ones who were wounded and who died and to their families. But at the same time my heart goes out to the man who was greatly ignored and in need of help. However I believe that blaming just the mental illness for the issue is not the answer there are steps that are taken even before the initial act happens. These steps can start small .. the reason why I say that we should not just blame the mental illness is simply because when we do that we are not solving the issue at hand and we further stigmatize others who suffer with a mental illness.

    It is hard enough for me to express my own true emotions because often people believe that every emotion I convey is due to the bipolar disorder I have, instead I am just as human as they are and I do have normal human emotions. This is part of the stigma that I am talking about. That is why we as a society of people need to be careful on where we place the blame. Truth is I don’t place the blame fully on the mental illness in the case of the shooting in Arizona and I don’t fully place the blame on society or his parents … finding out how to be of help and to prevent these situations is much more important than placing blame.

    And creating more laws isn’t really solving anything because if a person has it set in their mind that is what they need to do whether they have a mental illness or not they are going to do it regardless of the laws.

    This is a tough battle for all of us to deal with and in knowing what to do is hard for the most part. I believe in fair and balance treatment for all. And again I do apologize if it sounded as though I was being to overly opinionated with my earlier comment.