Monday, April 23, 2007

Understanding the Mind of the Virginia Tech Gunman...

It has been a week since the Virginia Tech massacre. I've been struck by the failure of the media to address the issue of mental illness in any serious way.

In the mid-1970's I managed a transitional residence for mentally ill individuals in Western Massachusetts. At that time I felt frustrated at the poor understanding of mental illness by society at-large. Not much has changed in the intervening three decades.

Cho was a VERY SICK individual - not a criminal. The video clips released by NBC show a young man who was clearly out of touch with reality. He suffered from a chronic illness that affects half of one percent of the population.

There is really no cure for paranoid schizophrenia. Anti-psychotic medications can relieve the most serious symptoms...but they have some undesirable side effects. I'm not sure if Cho had a prescription for these medications. It seems likely that he was not taking any medicine for his psychosis.

I would hope that one of the outcomes of the terrible tragedy at Virginia Tech would be a greater understanding of the challenges posed by serious mental illness in our society. We need more research into the causes of schizophrenia and into the development of effective treatments for this disease.

Clearly the response to the Virginia Tech shootings should not be the widespread availability of guns for the general public. I once worked as a college professor and I know I would not have been keen on the idea of students having concealed weapons in my classroom.