No Room at the Inn: Mentally Ill Youth in Crisis; Failing to Provide Timely Treatment Can Result in Violence and Tragedy

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60 Minutes interview with Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds spotlights disastrous consequences of a failed mental health care system. New book, A Voice out of Nowhere by Janice Holly Booth, follows another family's experience with inadequate mental health care to a deadly, violent conclusion.

A Voice out of Nowhere

The lack of past violence of a person with mental illness is no reliable predictor of their potential for future violence.

It’s a story that’s becoming all too tragically familiar: a family seeks help for their mentally ill child, only to be turned away or given cursory care. Days or even hours later, that child is dead, a victim of self-inflicted violence, often taking the lives of family members before taking their own.

On January 26, 2014, 60 Minutes aired an interview with Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds about his recent experience with the mental health care system. His son Gus was 24 and a promising student at William and Mary when he became withdrawn and delusional. A psychiatrist diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. Deeds became so concerned about his son’s behavior that he removed all the guns from their Virginia farmhouse save for one hunting rifle that had no ammunition. On the evening of November 18th, 2013, Deeds took Gus to the emergency room to get help for the paranoid and bizarre behavior his son was exhibiting. The hospital released Gus without medicating him. Less than 24 hours later, Gus stabbed his father twice in the face then killed himself with the hunting rifle.

This scenario is anything but new, says author Janice Holly Booth whose new book “A Voice out of Nowhere: Inside the mind of a mass murderer” chronicles another tragedy fueled by untreated mental illness – the 1983 mass murders committed by Bruce Blackman who had an undiagnosed case of paranoid schizophrenia. In Senator Deeds’ case and in the case of the Blackmans, help for their sons was either ineffective or non-existent. “Neither son had ever been violent, but the lack of past violence of a person with mental illness is no reliable predictor of their potential for future violence,” says Booth.

Deeds lost his beloved son to a system that could have saved him. He’s now returned to the Virgina Senate where he’s introduced a bill to extend emergency custody in an ER from six to 24 hours and to create a computer database to list all the open psychiatric beds statewide. “There’s just a lack of equity in the way we as a society, and certainly as a government and insurance industry, medical industry, with the way we look at mental health issues,” he says.

The province of British Columbia where the Blackman tragedy unfolded is experiencing an unprecedented rise in violent crimes committed by people who suffer from untreated mental illness. The Vancouver Police Department has compiled a report and recommendations to address the troubling epidemic, but government authorities say the problem “needs more study.”

BIO: Janice Holly Booth was born and raised in British Columbia. She is the author of A Voice out of Nowhere: Inside the mind of a mass murderer, which is Amazon’s #1 best-seller in schizophrenia. Her first book, Only Pack What You Can Carry, was published by National Geographic in 2011, and is a guide to personal growth through solo adventure travel. She has a master’s degree in Leadership and was a non-profit CEO for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time writer and speaker. She currently lives near Charlotte, North Carolina.

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Janice Holly Booth
Janice Holly Booth
since: 01/2011
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