Psych Central


Tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary aren’t just agonizing and heart-wrenching for millions of people – they’re frustrating.

We keep asking ourselves “how?” and “why?” And, with authorities still trying to piece together evidence, the public has to make do with limited – and often incorrect – information.

First came reports that the shooter, Adam Lanza, might have Asperger’s. To my knowledge, no authoritative source has yet confirmed Lanza had a formal diagnosis of that or any other emotional, behavioral or developmental condition.

But that lack of evidence – as well as expert consensus that Asperger’s was extremely unlike to have triggered a shooting rampage – didn’t stop an army of commentators from weighing in.

Now, comes the speculation about whether Lanza might have a history of taking mood or behavior-altering medication.

Don’t get me wrong, here. I’m not blaming journalists, bloggers, pundits, Twitter users, and the general public from wondering if Lanza might be taking psychiatric meds.

In fact, it’s one of the first questions that came to my mind – even before I heard the reports of his possible Asperger’s.

In my opinion, regardless of the legal definition of “criminally insane,” anyone who shoots up a school must be somehow sick in the head. Does that make them the moral equivalent of the 20 percent of American adults who have suffered from mental illness in the past year, or even the equivalent of the 5 percent who have suffered from serious mental illness? Certainly not.

But it does mean that looking into a history of mental health problems and treatment is a relevant line of investigation. After all, contrary to popular belief, mass killers don’t always just “snap.” Often, as in the case of the Tuscon shooter, Jared Loughner, there are ample signs of trouble far before they hurt anyone.

That doesn’t always mean parents, classmates, or school personnel go around fearing for their lives or those of others – although many parents struggle with seriously troubled children for whom there seems to be no adequate help and plenty of opportunity for violence, as one mother’s recent viral essay on the topic poignantly demonstrated.

Rather, mass shooters can be withdrawn and isolated, as abc.com points out on an article about schools as a first line of defense in identifying troubled kids. “Most of these kids aren’t acting out, they’re acting in,” the associate director of high school services for the National Association for Secondary School Principals told ABC. “And kids that act in often get overlooked.”

That seems to have been the case with Adam Lanza. The principal of Lanza’s high school told The Wall Street Journal that Lanza was permanantly assigned to a school psychologist as a ninth-grader because school officials worried he might be the victim of bullying, or that he might hurt himself.

But, despite these reports, I’ve yet to see an authoritative evidence about other mental health treatment Lanza received, including whether or not he was prescribed or ever took psychiatric medications.

Yesterday, Hearst Connecticut Newspapers reported that a search of the Lanza home had yielded cellphones and gaming materials, but no psychiatric medications. Investigators are pursuing search warrants to look into Lanza’s medical records to see if he was being treated for any psychiatric ailment and if he was prescribed drugs for any such condition.

Despite a lack of evidence – or maybe because of it – there are ample rumors circulating about Lanza’s possible medication use (I suspect that the Anarchist Soccer Mom, whose essay on her violent, mentally ill son mentioned putting him on “a slew of medications” has only fueled speculation about the same being true for Lanza).

In particular, many outlets have named Fanapt, a relatively new antipsychotic drug approved for treating the symptoms of schizophrenia. Like many antipsychotics, doctors also prescribe Fanapt for conditions besides the one it’s officially approved for, including those that involve considerable aggression and irritability.

This afternoon, Business Insider ran an article about problems getting Fanapt approved, titled “The Antipsychotic Prescribed To Adam Lanza Had A Troubled History All Its Own.” The article cited a New York Magazine post that reported Lanza’s uncle had said his nephew had been prescribed the drug.

The New York Magazine post, meanwhile, attributed the information to The New York Daily News. But neither the link to the article provided in by nymag.com nor a search of the Daily News website turned up any such information.

A web search I conducted produced only rumors, especially from those who clearly have an anti-medication agenda.

Believe me, I’m as curious as anyone to know details of Lanza’s mental health history: what kind of mental health treatment he received, including any formal diagnoses, whether he was currently taking medication or had taken meds in the past, and, if so, what kind.

But so far, it looks like the responsible thing to do is sit tight and wait for some more solid information.

Pills spilling out of a pill bottle forming a question mark available at Shutterstock

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    Last reviewed: 18 Dec 2012

APA Reference
Bell Barnett, K. (2012). Too Early To Link Sandy Hook Shooting With Psych Meds. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 16, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/my-meds/2012/12/too-early-to-link-sandy-hook-shooting-with-psych-meds/

 

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