By all accounts Jared Loughner’s early school years were relatively normal. He played in the band, had friends and a girlfriend; pretty much a regular guy.
Then sometime midway through high school things started to fall apart. He alienated friends, became more of a loner, started smoking pot and talked about weird ideas. He quit in his senior year, tried to enlist and was rejected by the army and finally ended up at Pima Community College.
In terms of mental health this is absolutely normal. The typical onset for potentially severe mental illness occurs in the mid-to-late teenage years. So what can parents and educators do?
You want to look at your child's life as a whole. In other words you want to look at all the normal, typical activities that an adolescent engages in. Nearly all of the aspects of adolesence are defined by school, hobbies, social interaction. If a kid is making good grades, has friends, inter-acts socially, then you know he or she is basically okay.
However, if you see a kid whose grades have fallen, who's dropped his extra-curricluar activies and is becoming socially withdrawn, then the red flags should start waving. There's a strong possibility that one of two things is going on: either he's become involved with alcohol or drugs or he's developing a potentially severe mental illness.
Jared Loughner fits the pattern. By the time he had enrolled in Pima community college he quickly became noticed. He posted messages on My Space and You Tube concerning the government using grammar (yes, grammar) to control our minds. He also had rambling, illogical posts about literacy, birds, numbers, sleep, language and currency.
Classmates described him as scary, weird and seriously disturbed. Lynda Sorenson a fellow student said, “Hopefully he will be (kicked) out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.” One professor said he was afraid to turn his back to Loughner and write on the board. All concerned felt a strong possibility that he could be violent. He finally was expelled and his parents were told he needed a mental health evaluation to state he was ‘stable and not a danger to himself or others’ before returning to class.
As a psychiatrist my take is this: I can’t give a definitive diagnosis just by seeing his videos, reading his postings and hearing the descriptions of those who knew him. But what’s crystal clear is that Jared Loughner was psychotic (probably schizophrenic) and totally out of touch with reality. In addition he was seen as a danger in school, scaring the other students and prompting the college to take action. Also, local Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he had made threats to kill before (but not against Ms. Giffords).
Now, as we analyze the aftermath, the pundits are out in force talking about the cause, which they attribute to (depending on their political views) Mr. Loughner being either a ‘right wing terrorist’ or a ‘leftist lunatic.’ Solutions range from less inflammatory political rhetoric to secret service protection for politicians, metal detectors at political rallies and stronger gun control laws. Yet no one is talking about the root cause of the problem which is that Jared had a mental illness, the red flags for violence were everywhere and yet sadly from everything we've learned so far, Jared appears to never have received any type of treatment.
The facts are quite clear. A 1988 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that patients discharged from psychiatric facilities who did not abuse alcohol and illegal drugs had a rate of violence no different than that of their neighbors in the community.
Thus, clearly, if we can recognize and treat these two conditions (alcohol/drug abuse and mental illness) we will markedly decrease the propensity for violence in our society across the board.
Why are we so afraid to discuss mental illness as the actual cause for violence? Quite simply we fear the unknown and what could be more frightening then the logical center of your brain slowly shutting down?
But until we stop assigning a motive to fit our ideology for every newsworthy event involving a mentally ill person then the real losers, along with the victims, will be those that have these conditions. They will continue to suffer alone in their delusional world because no one wants to pay attention and recognize the warning signs and symptoms in order to prompt early intervention and treatment.
Dr. Dale Archer is a psychiatrist and frequent guest on "FoxNews.com Live." For more, visit his website: Dr.DaleArcher.com.