Experts call for ways to diagnose, treat potential killers before it's too late
by Noreen Cochran
January 28, 2013 12:15 AM | 3114 views | 3 3 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lantasha Roberts sits near an unloaded handgun that she bought to protect herself from her adopted daughter. <br>Staff/Emily Barnes
Lantasha Roberts sits near an unloaded handgun that she bought to protect herself from her adopted daughter.
Staff/Emily Barnes
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MARIETTA — In the wake of the deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown , Conn., on Dec. 14, the role of mental disorders in violence has become a hot topic.

Acworth resident Lantasha Roberts said she bought a handgun because she is afraid of her 14-year-old adopted daughter, even though the teen is now residing at the Devereaux Georgia residential facility in Kennesaw.

“She has injured my family over the years,” Roberts wrote on Facebook on Dec. 19. “On Dec. 12, I was attacked by my daughter and injured.”

Instead of being arrested, the juvenile was taken to the area hospital, where Roberts got treatment for physical injuries and the teen was evaluated in the “psych ER,” according to Roberts.

The teen, whose name has been withheld, has been in therapy since the age of 4, Roberts said, and has been “in and out” of treatment centers.

The mother said hospital staff members spoke harshly to her when she hesitated to bring the teen back home.

Roberts said she has tried to get help from a variety of authorities, like the Department of Family and Children Services, only to come away disappointed.

“I went to the police, DFACS, Juvenile Justice and the office of mental health, begging for help for me and my family to be safe,” she said. “(They) all say there is nothing that can be done. I have tried to be proactive only to get the door slammed in my face over and over by the people who say they protect families.”

Roberts said she is genuinely afraid.

“I have purchased a gun because I’m so scared and need to protect my family and myself,” she said. “I believe that if she is released, she will kill me. She’s bigger than me. I’m afraid of her.”



Law enforcement weighs in

Pat Head, former Cobb County district attorney, said he has heard similar stories.

“Last night (on the news) I watched a guy who was saying it was easier to buy an AK-47 than it was to get mental health treatment for his son,” he said. “That’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong. But making it harder to buy an AK-47 doesn’t solve the issue.”

Instead of gun control, Head said, identifying and treating mental health issues are the keys to preventing bloodbaths.

“I can’t think of any law that we could pass that would have prevented the tragedy in Connecticut ,” he said. “It does appear that every one of the people involved in (mass shootings) has mental health issues. If we don’t do something about mental health, we’re not taking any steps that will prevent things like this from occurring.”

Head said researchers must discover a diagnostic tool to predict who is likely to become violent as a result of behavioral health issues.

“There has got to be a way for our mental health professionals to be able to identify people who have the propensity to commit these types of crimes,” he said.



Early warning system

There is a way, according to the Smyrna-based Cobb County Community Services Board, which treats about 14,000 patients a year for mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse.

“We’re working with law enforcement to identify people sooner to intervene sooner,” said rehab and recovery director Debbie Strotz.

She said the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a Cobb County chapter, also helps police.

“NAMI does training with law enforcement so they know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, to try to work with them verbally to de-escalate,” Strotz said about calming down an agitated person to avert a crisis.

The National Council for Behavioral Health has a “mental health first-aid” kit, she said, with a prevention section.

“For example, teachers or clergy are educated to recognize early symptoms,” Strotz said. “(Council president) Linda Rosenberg talks about family and friends who know that something’s not right and how to intervene.”

Neighbors can also weigh in.

“Some communities in certain neighborhoods, they may have identified someone with a long-running mental illness,” said Tod Citron, the board’s executive director. “The main issue is when someone is confronted with a person who has mental illness, that they not stay isolated with that person, but reach out for help.”

Bryan Stephens, board director of intake access and outpatient services, urges people to call the board’s hot line as soon as they know something is wrong.

“A crisis number, even if you’re not in crisis, can refer you to resources to get help now,” he said.

The board can mobilize resources that “wrap around” a patient, providing relief from multiple providers.

“They can keep that person stable in their home when they are in distress, as opposed to being carted off to the emergency room or jail,” Citron said.



The ER

Sometimes the emergency room is the only appropriate destination.

WellStar Health System doesn’t treat minors for mental health issues, but older teens age 18 and 19 in the Cobb or Kennestone ERs can meet with “emergency assessors.”

“Their role is to support the physician in determining if the patient is a threat to themselves or others,” said Randy Cook, WellStar vice president of behavioral health and medicine service.

If there is a danger of violence, a doctor can give the patient a “1013 status,” Cook said, a legal designation.

“That means we are taking responsibility of the patient until they can be placed for treatment or until they are no longer a threat,” he said.

He or she can be immediately “admitted by WellStar on their behalf,” Cook said, meaning involuntarily, to a special unit at the Cobb hospital.

“A patient on a 1013 can be held for 48 hours,” he said.” Then if the physician chooses, the patient converts to a 1014, which is good for five business days. At that point, if further care is needed, it takes a court order to keep a patient longer.”
Comments
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Pat H
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January 28, 2013
Kudos to the MDJ for an honest investigation into the problems faced by parents trying to access the mental health system when their children possess sociopathic behavior. Our society has allowed the pendulum to swing too far from a time when there were SOME people who were unnecessarily institutionalized to avoiding necessary long term admission for those who are dangerous to themselves and others.

A special thank you to Ms. Roberts for allowing the public to see the difficulties faced by responsible but loving parents who are trying to get the help their child requires. Our society has also discovered that the emptying of our mental institutions have saved a great deal of money for both insurance companies and governmental agencies.

May this family be provided with care and peace and God bless your efforts to help this troubled child. 7 days inpatient is not much help for a psychotic individual. Getting our overpaid and part time judges involved so soon is not working in the patient's best interest or in the best interest of society.
VFP42
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January 28, 2013
Dear Pat Head, what law could have prevented the preventable tragedy in Sadny Hook?

I say if you own or buy a gun, you should be 100% legally responsible for its use until it is sold or destroyed.

If you don't want your psycho kid or some burglar getting YOU a life sentence by taking your gun and using it, you keep your gun locked in a safe except when you are using it (and then, hey, you have the gun, the NRA says you're safe and can even save the whole world with it).

We need some appropriate level of responsibility from gun owners. It is the only way forward from this mess.

Obama needs to offer 100% federal tax credits on gun safe purchases up to $1500. If house insulation is worth a tax credit, a gun safe is darn sure worth a tax credit too.

So Pat Head, maybe it's time to retire if you didn't already. There are very obvious legal steps that can help address this situation. Why deny them?

"It does appear that every one of the people involved in (mass shootings) has mental health issues." What was the mom's issue, Pat Head? She was extremely involved in perpetrating the Sadny Hook mass murder: It ALL depended on her allowing access to her home aresenal! She played a pivotal role.
Read correctly
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January 28, 2013
Pat Head has retired, and should not have even been quoted. However, Mrs. Lanza was not alone in guilt. Mr. Lanza ignored his son's well being for years - did not visit, did not seek help for him. Mrs. Lanza's brother was a police chief, who ignored this child's problems even though the mom was quoted that she could not handle him any longer.

Also ignored was the fact that this boy did nothing all day except play video games, especially the most violent. The parents were people of great means to have him treated in private institutions but failed in their duty to protect us. Mr. Lanza, and also his older brother, are continuing to work and benefit from the society that their son and brother has harmed.
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