If mental illness a factor, shooting suspect might be ‘troubled soul’
By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON - In the days following the shootings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 people dead and 58 others wounded, speculation arose about the mental state of the suspected shooter, James Holmes.
Days after the July 20 tragedy, word was leaked to news outlets that Holmes reportedly had been seeing a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado and had sent his therapist a package that included a description of a planned shooting spree.
That possibility of such a package reveals a “cry for help” and perhaps indicates the suspect “was a troubled soul” according to Connie Rakitan, chair of the Chicago Archdiocesan Commission on Mental Illness, told Catholic News Service July 26.
Sending it to a psychiatrist, and not to police, “points to the bigger issue of mental pain and mental illness,” she added.
A day after Rakitan spoke to CNS court papers filed by Holmes’ attorneys and made public July 27 confirmed he was seeing a psychiatrist and had sent the doctor a package, although whether it had been received before the shootings was in dispute. Holmes’ lawyers said the package contained communications between their client and his psychiatrist that should be kept from the public.
Holmes was formally charged July 30. He faces 142 counts, which include a first-degree count for each of the 12 who died and attempted murder charges for those injured. It was not yet clear if his lawyers will mount an insanity defense.
Janice Benton, executive director of the Washington-based National Catholic Partnership on Disability, told CNS it was rare for a mentally ill person to be so violent. But she also noted recent similar tragic shootings carried out by young men - who are “at an age when schizophrenia and other illnesses develop” - highlight what can happen when people can’t find the services or help they need.
Benton said in the aftermath of the Colorado tragedy, her office was reiterating a statement it released following the 2011 shooting outside a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket where a gunman shot 18 people, six of them fatally.
After that incident, her office said it that it seemed evident the shooter “was, and had for some time been experiencing a mental illness. We are saddened by the knowledge that with appropriate treatment this tragic act likely could have been avoided.”
The statement also noted that “most people with mental illness suffer silently, often hiding to escape the stigma of being known as a person with this condition, sometimes hiding in full view. Regrettably, such individuals often are unable to find access to needed services due to under-funded mental health systems incapable of delivering proper care. They often experience stigmatization, stereotyping and isolation from society.”
Benton and Rakitan said recent shootings highlight the need for communities - church communities in particular - to be proactive in taking steps to help those experiencing mental illness by breaking down stigmas and making sure people get the support and help they need.
Rakitan noted that in the wake of such tragedies, the general public’s reaction to possible links to mental illness has not been as negative as it would have been a few decades ago, because there has been a growing understanding of mental illness.
“But the fact remains that this man allegedly did what he did, so clearly there is a long way to go,” Rakitan said.
Commenting before it was confirmed Holmes had been under the care of a university psychiatrist, she told CNS the issue could be about untreated mental illness.
The work of the church in this regard, she said, is to look at “what prevents people from receiving treatment and how can they better access mental health care.”
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops