The Shooter

Like many of you, I have been glued to the news/Internet/Twitter over the past week for information about the tragedy in Tucson. I have grieved with a nation, marveled over the stories of courage and sacrifice that have emerged, and yes, engaged to some degree in conversations about the role (or lack thereof) of inflammatory rhetoric in this tragedy.

But as a health care professional, I have mostly wondered about the man behind this horrific event: Jared Lee Loughner. Much remains to be discovered about his motivations and beliefs. Clearly he was aiming for Congresswoman Giffords. Clearly he had serious mental health problems.

But how did it get to this point? Where did Loughner go from a guy who made people uncomfortable to an alleged murderer of six and an attempted assassin of a congresswoman? What caused him to step over the line from creep to shooter?

This is someone who certainly fell through the cracks. But it wasn’t as if he was coasting through life, with no one paying attention. His parents were worried about him – what parents wouldn’t be? He had been suspended from school for disturbing behavior. It is unclear (and private) the extent to which he was receiving any mental health services.

My job introduces me to family dynamics and situations that often reflect instability, conflict and mental health problems. For every Jared Loughner in the world, there are others folks who are disruptive, disturbed and potentially dangerous. And there are thousands more that have a mental health diagnosis and would never commit violence against another human being. We can’t lock them up anymore than we could have Loughner because he gave people the heebie jeebies.

We have a responsibility to provide confidential care and protect the privacy of the people we support, even when they are troubled. And people with mental illness already face tremendous stigma – we also have a responsibility to be advocates at the individual and community level, to prevent “mentally ill” from becoming synonymous with “dangerous”.

At what point do you think our duty to serve the client is superseded by a duty to protect the public?

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