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Can the Next Adam Lanza Be Prevented?

A local psychotherapist comments on a plea from a mom who says her son exhibits violent behavior, and she fears he might be the next Adam Lanza--who police have identified as the gunman in the Newtown slayings of 27 people.

 

While Adam Lanza may have been a troubled, mentally ill youth, there are such people everywhere, including Niles, Park Ridge, Skokie and Chicago's north suburbs, said Seth Knobel, director of Niles Family Services.

He has worked with families here who have kids going through erratic, bizarre behavior and mental illness--similar to what Adam Lanza, - may have experienced.

"It doesn't necessarily mean they'll grow up to be mass murderers," he said. 

However, it IS important for parents to take children with extremely disruptive behavioral issues to see a mental health professional, Knobel emphasized.

That's especially critical for parents like the writer of the essay "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother," which appeared in Huffington Post. The author, Liza Long, details how her 13-year-old son can be calm but then erupt in bizarre and violent behavior. She fears for the safety of her other two children, and worries his condition is eerily similar to that of Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, and other names now notorious for committing mass shootings.

"I love my son. But he terrifies me," she wrote.

Knobel empathized with her fears and frustrations, including the frustration that mental health takes time and effort to diagnose and treat. While you can have physical ailments and walk into a doctor's office and get a blood draw and a diagnosis, it can take months for a mental health professional to figure out how best to approach mental illness. 

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"With some kids, it has taken a long time to get to that aha moment where medication and therapy match up, so the individual can start living as productive and fulfilling a life as they can," Knobel said.

Mental illness has its roots in physical causes, just as physical illnesses do, he stressed.

"This is a chemical imbalance--this is something in the brain that causes them to act this way," Knobel explained, adding people have no more control over getting schizophrenia than they do over getting cancer.

And mental health professionals do not judge or blame parents who bring their kids in. They work with you to find a healthier way of being, he said.

Few resources even in this affluent area

The Maine Center, a social service agency in Park Ridge, no longer has a child psychiatrist on staff, Knobel said, though they do have an adult psychiatrist, and they occasionally have succeeded in getting psychiatrists to do pro bono work.

However, Niles Family Service refers most children who need psychiatric help to Turning Point, a social service agency in Skokie which serves towns from Evanston to Park Ridge and northwards. 

Knobel doesn't believe institutionalizing people is the right answer, largely because Illinois no longer has therapeutic places where the mentally ill can go to get help and healing. Instead, many of the mentally ill are confined in correctional facilities. 

Insurance doesn't cover mental health adequately, he says

One problem that Niles Family Services bumps up against is that many health insurance plans, even relatively good ones, make people jump through hoops to get coverage for mental health services, or place restrictions on them.

"There are real issues with the mental health aspect of insurance," he said. Some insurers consider it a pre-existing condition and place limits on coverage; others require primary care doctors to certify that the mental illness is causing physical health problems before they will cover it.

Knobel said his agency depends on the National Organization of Social Workers to address this issue at the federal level.

When to call

How can parents distinguish between naughty-but-normal children's behavior and behavior that requires a visit to a mental health professional? 

Knobel has two answers. The first is that any behavior that makes you fear for your own or another person's safety is definitely behavior that needs looking at by a professional.

The second answer is even simpler. If your child's behavior causes disruption, and if it bothers you, come on in, he urged.

"If somebody has a question about their child--or their brother, sister or neighbor--they should seek out help," he said.

Do it sooner, rather than later, because the behavior may only escalate, he advises.

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Harry Gio December 18, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Retired Military and Police would serve as the best form of security for schools, and they would have no problem taking down a scumbag before they cause harm to anyone... You will never see anyone going to the police department to make trouble, only because they know that EVERYONE there is carrying a gun.
Red Sam Rackham December 18, 2012 at 04:38 PM
And perhaps, if diagnosed before they go postal, violent loonies could be lobotomized.
Red Sam Rackham December 18, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Of course the day may come when we won't be able to enter any public facility without going thru extensive security.After all such mass murders have happened at a movie theater, a women's clothing store and fast food restaurants as well as public schools.
Casey Faust December 19, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Wow......some of these posts??? How about some empathy for others out here that have a family member with neurological issues. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get support and services. I have banged on every door and asked for help for 5 years. It is not an easy task. Lobotomy............... really!!!!!! I truly hope you never know no anyone that is not the norm.
Mary Beth December 21, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Agree totally, Casey. Some of these posts are crazier than the purported madman! Lobotomies, turning schools into fortresses, high powered firearms in the schools... certainly nothing could ever go wrong with any of those scenarios! Think of what you are saying, people!! "Violent loonies, before they go postal..." just who decides someone is violent, before they commit a crime? Frightening! Columbine happened in 1999, with many more to follow, and yet we still debate the same issues: gun control, dismal lack of mental health care as mentioned here, along with the insidious prevalence of violence as entertainment in our culture. Beyond the obvious need for limits on the easy accessibility to guns, altho a pistol can kill as dead as a rifle, maybe not as many or as fast, what is desperately needed in vast improvement in mental health care services for all. The time to stop the future serial killer is long before they reach the doors of a school, by getting them the appropriate help they need. Mental illness IS an illness, the same as diabetes or cancer, should not be a stigma. Should have the same insurance coverage, along with readily, easily accessible government programs. Instead, we warehouse our mentally ill in prisons, jails, homeless shelters without treatment. To continue on this path of no treatment, blind ignorance is to continue on the path of destruction. We will reap what we sow.

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