President Bush designated the 1990s as the Decade of the Brain: “to enhance public awareness of the benefits to be derived from brain research” through “appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” Thirteen years after the decade of the brain, the public is now aware that brain function is impaired in mental illness (including psychopathy) and addiction. Research has uncovered the brain regions involved in mental illnesses (including psychopathy) and addiction and the mechanism of action of many helpful medications.
Now this may still be difficult for some people to comprehend but, I say categorically that, “a 20 year old male who kills his mother, several other women and 20 five year old children does not have a normal brain.” I also ask, “when are our laws regarding mental illness going to catch up with our scientific knowledge of same?”
In the wake of the Newtown elementary school shootings, news commentators are talking about gun control and I claim no specific expertise in that matter. However it would be terrible if we didn’t take this time to also think about the problem of “civil rights” and mental illness. We need to institute “people control” in addition to gun control.
Many mental illnesses start in early adulthood, a time when young people are still financially and emotionally dependent on their families. Parents have no real power to compel a teenager into treatment much less a dependent young adult. The most parents can do is to expel the mentally ill teen or adult child from the home. What good does that do? Parents are rendered powerless by the government to help society and their children.
Doesn’t it seem logical that a dependent young person who has a brain problem severe enough to prevent self-care should be required to adhere to the decision making of parents who provide care? As current law stands, family members are not even allowed information about the dependent’s condition if they are in treatment. Does that make sense?
Empowering families also means accountability and education. If you have a mentally ill family member and you own weapons it is your responsibility to keep those weapons away from the mentally ill person.
Clearly the realities of family life no longer dictate that an individual member’s rights be considered in a vacuum. Sure “the right to refuse treatment” sounds good in theory but in practice it leads to suicide, murder and homelessness. Speaking of the homeless, many receive SSI or Social Security Disability. They are dependents of the state. Shouldn’t we all then have an interest in their treatment and possible return to productivity? Does it make sense for us to pay them to remain mentally ill, addicted and homeless?
Psychopathy is a mental illness that may manifest at any point from childhood through emergent adulthood. Furthermore, the individual symptoms of psychopathy as described by the psychopathy checklist contribute to crime and all forms of aggression. It is time we tackle psychopathy at all levels of severity as a mental health issue. Tackling it means treatment, public education and the empowerment of families to intervene. There is emerging evidence that treatment can lessen the severity of the condition. Supervision does reduce aggression and crime.
I have repeatedly said that psychopathic individuals could not do what they do without the help of their families. The Newtown school shooting is no exception to this because although the perpetrator killed his mother, the guns he used to kill legally belonged to her. He clearly should not have had access to weapons. We have yet to know the full extent of the mother’s lack of judgement when it came to her son’s disorder. But our laws and attitudes toward mentally ill individuals including those with psychopathy do not facilitate family education or responsibility.
In summary, since mental illness including psychopathy impairs judgement, creates dependency and predisposes to violence, mentally ill individuals should not have a blanket right to refuse treatment. The current criteria for compelled treatment are too restrictive. Families should be empowered to take both control and responsibility for the problems caused by mental illnesses including psychopathy.
See also Civil Commitment of Sociopaths, an article I wrote in 2010.