Exposure to violent video games. A failure to take medication to treat mental illness or a development disorder. Access to assault weapons. And is it time to profile White males?
These issues and questions have been raised in the aftermath of one of the worst mass shootings in modern American history. A week ago, 20-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage, killing 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where he lived with his mother, Nancy, whom he also killed. He pumped several bullets in her head before heading out of the door and turning the gun on himself at the school after the shootings.
While it’s difficult to know Lanza’s mental state and what steps his mother took to seek treatment for him, experts are weighing in based on what they know from news reports of interviews with neighbors and people in the community who say he was in need of mental health treatment.
“Most children who play violent video games do not commit crimes or violent acts,” Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, told NewsOne. “But some youth can be at risk for violence if there is mental illness and an oversaturation of violent video gaming, according to some studies. There have been studies showing a link between violent gaming and acting out because these kids become desensitized. The answer is about parents finding the proper balance and not allowing the child to isolate.”
Law enforcement authorities are still trying to piece together what led to the horrific crime in which Lanza, known as withdrawn and anti-social, used high-powered weapons obtained from his mother. She reportedly took him to shooting ranges and the three weapons, including a Bushmaster rifle, used in the attack were all legal. The shooting prompted President Barack Obama to appoint Vice President Joe Biden to push to strengthen gun laws.
Lanza was reportedly isolated and spent hours in a windowless basement den, playing violent video games, which has caused speculation about the desensitization to violence. And some reports have emerged that Nancy Lanza was preparing to commit her son to a psychiatric facility for treatment of Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and unspecified mental health issues.
Experts say she took the right steps, but his problems reportedly went on for a while. Mental health experts suggest that parents seek help immediately if a teen or young adult shows signs of trouble, including antisocial behavior, chronic defiance, harms self or destroys property of others, and engages in criminal behavior, according to a report on Yahoo.
“This is not just about mental health,” Gardere said. “It’s certainly not just about gun control, but I think a combination of both those things. We’re going to have to reform gun laws, but we also have to look at the fact that we have a serious hole in the mental health procedures and entitlement parities as they stand today.”
Overall, the nation faces a treatment problem for young males, who are at the onset of severe mental illness, including schizophrenia, paranoid schizophrenia, extreme rage and severe personality disorders, including schizoid or schizotypal or even some sort of conduct disorder that may turn into something pathological, Gardere said.
Further, when asked about an article on Salon by David Sirota that suggests profiling White males, who have committed most of the mass shootings in America, Dr. Gardere said that would take things too far afield.
“I don’t make it a point of stereotyping anyone because two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said. “We know at the Virginia Tech shooting that was an Asian young man. In another shooting, it was based on someone’s religious grounds, so it’s not productive to look at this as a White male problem.
“I can tell you as a psychologist, I have many young Black males who are having some of the very same issues, who thank goodness, have not decompensated to the point of being mass shooters. They are extremely violent, their parents can’t control them, and they can’t get them in to treatment. If they do, they are not compliant because of the severe side effects of the [drugs] that they take for the schizophrenia. This is not just a White male problem. This is America’s problem.”
Moving forward, Gardere said that elected officials and mental health experts and health care workers have an opportunity to help families like the Lanzas.
“They need to review standard procedures at hospitals, psychiatric emergency rooms and conduct more studies to determine how we can better diagnose young people who are at the onset of mental illness,” he said. “Child psychologists and psychiatrists must look at how we can get better compliance of children as far as getting proper mental health care and help them not to feel stigmatized.”
Gardere also said parents need to become more informed about mental health treatment. By taking her son to a gun range, Nancy Lanza may have felt it was a way to bond with her son and maybe it was some sort of therapy for him. But parents must break out of the denial that their kids are not capable of violence and that they are much less ill than they actually are and that they can be trusted with certain judgments that they perhaps are not mature enough to make on their own.
“There is a great amount of denial with some parents,” Gardere said. “We want our kids to be perfect, and in some cases, it’s not true and they need help, which should be sought out before it’s too late.”