2012 December 17 Monday
Mass Murderers: Blame 1960s Deinstitutionalization

While reading a Daniel Greenfield piece on gun control and whether we are individuals capable of making our own decisions I noticed a piece he did about the rise of mentally ill mass murders which, in turn, led to a piece by Clayton Cramer about how the rise of mass murderers is at least partially a result of letting the mentally ill out of mental hospitals.

For those of us who came of age in the 1970s, one of the most shocking aspects of the last three decades was the rise of mass public shootings: people who went into public places and murdered complete strangers. Such crimes had taken place before, such as the Texas Tower murders by Charles Whitman in 1966,1 but their rarity meant that they were shocking. Something changed in the 1980s: these senseless mass murders started to happen with increasing frequency. People were shocked when James Huberty killed twenty-one strangers in a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California in 1984, and Patrick Purdy murdered five children in a Stockton, California schoolyard in 1989. Now, these crimes have become background noise, unless they involve an extraordinarily high body count (such as at Virginia Tech) or a prominent victim (such as Rep. Gabrielle Giffords). Why did these crimes go from extraordinarily rare to commonplace?

Yeah, normal healthy minds aren't as likely to go on killing sprees as deranged people.

At least half of these mass murderers (as well as many other murderers) have histories of mental illness. Many have already come to the attention of the criminal justice or mental health systems before they become headlines. In the early 1980s, there were about two million chronically mentally ill people in the United States, with 93 percent living outside mental hospitals. The largest diagnosis for the chronically mentally ill is schizophrenia, which afflicts about 1 percent of the population, or about 1.5 percent of adult Americans.6 A 1991 estimate was that schizophrenia costs the United States about $65 billion annually in direct and indirect costs.7

The deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill (and resulting rise in the incidence of mass murderers) is just another bad idea from the 1960s we are still blessed with today.

In the 1960s, the United States embarked on an innovative approach to caring for its mentally ill: deinstitutionalization. The intentions were quite humane: move patients from long-term commitment in state mental hospitals into community-based mental health treatment. Contrary to popular perception, California Governor Ronald Reagan’s signing of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 196712 was only one small part of a broad-based movement, starting in the late 1950s.13 The Kennedy Administration optimistically described how the days of long-term treatment were now past; newly-developed drugs such as chlorpromazine meant that two-thirds of the mentally ill “could be treated and released within 6 months.”14

Rather than impose gun control on the law abiding and mentally healthy can we undo the damage of yet another bad idea from the 1960s?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 December 17 11:03 PM 

Jehu said at December 17, 2012 11:31 PM:

We can't undo this bad idea from the 1960s. The reason is that the psychiatric establishment in the US is basically deranged in a manner that it wasn't in the 1960s. Back then they were accused of going 'Full Stalin' to push Deinstitutionalization. Back then that statement was probably only maybe 5%-10% true. Give the same power to that establishment now and that statement is going to be 85-95% true. So there's no going back without a massive purge of the mental health apparatus.

dearieme said at December 18, 2012 5:57 AM:

Clayton Cramer's writing on the topic is consistently intelligent and often moving.

Here's a rather different view of the nub of the problem, also worth considering.


Ardes said at December 18, 2012 8:43 AM:

None of the big spree shootings was by a psychotic person for a simple reason - psychotics lack contact with reality and therefore are incapable of the planning and execution involved in spree shootings. Highly depressed people have a LOW suicide rate for the same reason - they are too depressed to get a gun and pull the trigger. Suicide spikes in the first few weeks after the initiation of antidepressant therapy.
Most of the shooters probably had some combination of depression, anxiety and some personality disorders.
Now, 25% of American women use antidepressants. The vast majority of people suffer from anxiety at some point in their lifetimes. Personality disorders are vague and defined based on the zeitgeist - feminists will always attempt to classify extreme masculine behavior as a personality disorder, for instance.
Do you want to live in a country where "Video game addiction syndrome" or "pornography addiction syndrome" becomes a reason to deny some people their rights? It isa very real threat since the DSM is crafted by a strongly left wing politically correct bunch of people.
It is far better the Gubmint lock up our guns, than lock up our people.

bbartlog said at December 18, 2012 9:38 AM:

The total savings from deinstitutionalization run to billions of dollars per year (possibly tens of billions in today's money, I'd have to do some more research). You would need to document a whole lot of additional harm beyond a few tens of shooting victims per year in order for it to make economic sense to reverse the process. And that's before you even put any quality of life issues for the crazies themselves on the scale.

No i don't said at December 18, 2012 10:47 AM:

All my sincere condolences and deep respect to the families and kids attacked, BUT, BUT,,,,

"Yeah, normal healthy minds aren't as likely to go on killing sprees as deranged people."

I completely dissagree. All those school and college shootings are perpetrated by pretty normal kids under extremely stressful circumstances. Those shooters are really healthy kids, what is unhealty is the economic and social mad system in which we live: Divorce up the ceiling and seen as normal, surveillance up our ass, child abuse instead of discipline, continuous idiotizing media and propaganda from the time kids are born, junk food all their lives, noise everywhere, drugs, numbing videogames, hormones going up and down their bodies, while at the same time it is illegal to have sex before 18, normal winter depression, etc, etc,...
Well, what the hell do you spect? These reactions are only NORMAL!

What kind of kid adapts and fits into such a sick society? Only a sick one, of course. Fitting in doesn't mean you are sane, but exactly the opposite. Our society is really ill, way out there. So what these kids are doing is sadly the normal reaction to all the aggression and violence they've been put through for many years.

Sorry, but normal healty minds ARE very much likely to go on killing sprees. They will continue to do so and neither gun restrictions nor long hours of "therapy" will do any good. The only ones who need real therapy are those who think that all the unadapted ones need therapy.

James Bowery said at December 18, 2012 12:29 PM:

Isn't the incarceration rate in the US evidence enough that the problem is societal?

Let's take Timothy McVeigh:

Was he mentally ill, evil or a "freedom fighter" that took the US's attitude toward "collateral damage"?

Aren't all freedom fighters "traumatized" in some sense and hence "sick"?

In said at December 18, 2012 12:34 PM:

I'm not at all convinced deinstitutionalization was a bad idea. Even if this has lead to more shootings it seems like it would be a huge improvement in the lives and freedoms of an apparently large number of people. Not to minimize the horror of mass killings (institutionalization also seems like a horror to me), but consider that about 30,000 people are killed each year in auto accidents in the U.S. Life is risky and safety is not the end all be all IMHO.

"Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." - Benjamin Franklin

Michael L said at December 18, 2012 12:38 PM:

google for ("connecticut shooting" "false flag") returns 24K hits. Apparently I am not the only one out there figuring that you need to be a pro to pull off a disaster good enough for the government to abolish freedoms.

A brief discussion of the likely false flag attacks in Russia that allowed Putin's consolidation of power can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_apartment_bombings . Not that I think that Putin comes anywhere near the sort of anti-national evil that we are dealing with in the case of Obama.

asdf said at December 18, 2012 3:22 PM:

School shootings are the price you pay for not getting committed because someone decides your crazy. It won't be long till anyone who isn't PC is considered mentally deranged.

Steve Funk said at December 19, 2012 11:34 PM:

A lot of it came from a book called Law, Liberty and Psychiatry, by Dr. Thomas Szasz. It was published in 1963, and is still #96 in books on mental health.
A civil libertarian, he wrote: "Psychiatric activity is medical in name only. For the most part, psychiatrists are engaged in attempts to change the behavior and values of individuals, groups, institutions, and sometimes even of nations. Hence, psychiatry is a form of social engineering. It should be recognized as such... The present book has two major aims: first, to present a critical inquiry into the current social, and especially legal, uses of psychiatry; second, to offer a reasoned dissent from what I consider the theory and practice of false psychiatric liberalism. Most of the legal and social applications of psychiatry, undertaken in the name of psychiatric liberalism, are actually instances of despotism."
In one interview, however, I remember him saying that if we really think some people should be committed, we should admit that it is preventive detention for the benefit of the rest of us and not something to benefit the patioen.

Anonymous said at December 22, 2012 4:48 PM:

According to this article, UK has more violent crimes per 100,000 residents.



The Tories said Labour had presided over a decade of spiralling violence.
In the decade following the party's election in 1997, the number of recorded violent attacks soared by 77 per cent to 1.158million - or more than two every minute.
The figures, compiled from reports released by the European Commission and United Nations, also show:
The UK has the second highest overall crime rate in the EU.
It has a higher homicide rate than most of our western European neighbours, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
The UK has the fifth highest robbery rate in the EU.
It has the fourth highest burglary rate and the highest absolute number of burglaries in the EU, with double the number of offences than recorded in Germany and France.

But it is the naming of Britain as the most violent country in the EU that is most shocking. The analysis is based on the number of crimes per 100,000 residents.
In the UK, there are 2,034 offences per 100,000 people, way ahead of second-placed Austria with a rate of 1,677.
The U.S. has a violence rate of 466 crimes per 100,000 residents, Canada 935, Australia 92 and South Africa 1,609.


Separately in the article is it said that
Sweden has 1,123/100,000 violent crime rate,
Belgium 1,006/100,000
Canada 935/100,000
Finland 738/100,000
Netherlands 676/100,000
Luxemburg 565/100,000
France 504/100,000

Once again, in ALL these European countries firearms are very strictly restricted and only a very small number of people are given gun permits if they are business owners or political figures who are threatened.

Imagine how much worse Europe will be if they authorize guns like in the US.

McNeil said at January 5, 2013 11:08 AM:

The ultimate reason that Americans are unable to discipline their children is that they have no authority over them. The American state, together with private industry, especially the "helping professions," have usurped their authority in loco parentis, thus empowering physicians, psychologists, judges, social workers, dentists and other health workers by, in effect, reducing people to parental incompetence. American children run amuck, throw tantrums in the "terrible twos" and "fearsome fours," and commit indignities against their parents and maliciously disobey them such as to shock the rest of the world. Children's actual socialization comes from the ever-present baby sitter, television, and the school, neighborhood pals and their interaction at play.

American parents are reduced to their entertainers, meal tickets and gift givers; in the U.S. the glorification of consumption and the warfare of status materialism see the parents constantly showering their "kids" with presents, all too often in place of true love and affection. The mother resorts to shrewishness and constant nagging to obtain minimal obedience from her children, while the deadbeat American husband and father has emotionally abandoned the family and takes little part in family life. A 1971 study by college psychologists of fathers in the Boston area found that they spent a grand total of 37 seconds a day on average spending time with their infants. Parents do not guide, comfort, govern, teach, nurse, control, restrain or mentor their children, although they are fond of giving them a good teasing now and then.

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