Editor’s note: After a hiatus, local physician Richard Malotky will be returning to our rotation of Sunday community columnists. He wrote this column after the Sandy Hook shootings, and after this week’s killings in Florida, found it still appropriate and necessary to be shared.
You can add it to the list of things I don’t understand. Why is it that we can’t seem to have a healthy discussion about mental illness in this country?
Every time somebody does something completely crazy, we hear about how sad it is and how we need to get rid of guns or knives or baseball bats or whatever the mentally ill person used to hurt a bunch of people. But nobody ever talks about what’s really wrong.
Lets get something straight. A “normal” person can’t go into a primary school with an semi-automatic rifle and kill first-graders like they are cockroaches. All of these killers share the same mental illness — they have anti-social personality disorder, sometimes also known as sociopathic personality disorder.
People in the know estimate that about one in 1,000 folks suffers from it. Of course, the great majority never act on their twisted thoughts, but every now and then everything lines up and the results are a disaster.
It turns out that personality is influenced by a great many factors in human growth and development. Some of these factors are genetic and some of them are environmental. As you might imagine, personality disorders occur when this development goes wrong.
There are lots of types of personality disorders. Many of them you have heard of before, such as bipolar and obsessive compulsive. But the sociopath is in a special place because of the damage they can do.
Sociopaths share quite a few traits. Most of them are quite bright intellectually. All of them are narcissists. They lack empathy and the ability to feel how others are feeling. These are the kids who torture the neighbor cat before they go through puberty.
Their family fears them. They have no friends, unless it’s another sociopath — think Columbine killers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.
They are often misdiagnosed as having other mental illnesses, but they refuse treatment and won’t take medication. They are pathological liars and often have a police record. They never learn anything from their mistakes and they have no regrets. They like to abuse drugs and alcohol.
What can we do, as a society and culture, to prevent these very sick individuals from shooting up our schools, movie theaters and other gathering places?
The answer is to identify them and treat them before they go through puberty. It’s possible, but it would take leadership and will and nationwide testing.
These folks can be found with personality tests. A protocol needs to be developed to test probably two or three different times — let’s say age 8, 10 and 12. Early identification might also help us start behavioral treatments that might prevent this disorder from blooming into the awful flower these folks can become.
We could also use our modern imaging techniques. When sociopaths have a MRI, the part of the brain in charge of empathy and fear, the amygdala, is much smaller than in a person without the disorder. And the genetic analysis game may have a great future to help us identify these patients early and treat them with something other than the heavy duty medications that they hate and won’t take.
It would also help if our culture and judicial system would actually trust the psychiatrist or mental health professional when one of these folks is identified.
If we are really serious about preventing these senseless acts of violence, we have to accept that the mentally ill are among us and that they are identifiable and treatable. Only then can we reduce the frequency and severity of these horrendous acts.
Dr. Richard Malotky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read or Share this story: http://reddingne.ws/2o6TDNq