Tragedies like the recent police shootings by Maurice Clemmons, a man with questionable mental stability and a violent history, raise anew the debate about what we can do differently to prevent these incidents from happening.
One piece that seems missing is intervention early on when signs of mental illness first present – even in childhood.
Last week, Disability Rights Washington filed a class-action lawsuit against the state charging that the state fails to provide early home and community-based services that would keep kids with mental illness out of institutional care.
Judy Lightfoot, writing in Crosscut, quotes psychiatrist Eric Trupin of the University of Washington, who says, “We know so much more about effective mental health interventions with children and families than we did 20 years ago. It’s a shame we’re so slow to implement what we now know: that psychosocial interventions which include intensive skills-based work with families lead to better outcomes than earlier approaches ever did.”
Over and over, families have said that they are unable to get help for troubled kids when they need it. And often, by the time they do get help, the situation has grown far worse.
We will never know Clemmons’ true mental state. He was shot and killed by police after a massive man hunt.
The Seattle Times notes that Clemmons’ only formal diagnosis was a “brief psychotic episode” noted after he reported hallucinations last spring. Otherwise, mental health evaluators found him competent to face his earlier charges, and labeled his erratic behavior “stress.”
However, he also had a history of violence at an early age, which automatically puts him at higher risk for escalating violence, and also should have been a red flag to look for other signs of mental disorders.
Who knows what signs of early mental illness might have been overlooked, or missed, or gone untreated? We’ll never know that either.
Studies show that the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, and function well with varying degrees of treatment and support.
But, evidence also shows that the majority of people in prison today have some form of mental illness. Ignoring the problems early on is asking for trouble.