Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Lefkow murders, mental illness, and jumping to conclusions

ABC News: Man Claims to Have Slain Judge's Family

Judge Lefkow's husband and mother were murdered by a mentally ill man unrelated to the neo-Nazi groups that had threatened her in the past.

I give credit to the police and commentators for not jumping to conclusions about the neo-Nazi connection. The articles I read, in newspapers and blogs, were generally fairly cautious. Hale and his kin were obvious suspects, but both the police and the commentators were clear that there were many possible alternatives.

I haven't seen, however, much discussion of the mental illness aspects of this case. Bart Ross sued his care providers because of what sounds like some fixed beliefs (delusions) about his care. He lived alone and had few social contacts. His suicide note suggests a very troubled and guilt-racked person, not the typical sociopath.

I hope the mainstream newspapers will delve into the deeper story, the important story. Was Bart Ross paranoid schizophrenic, perhaps with some superimposed dementia? What kind of care did he receive for his illness? What is the best way to care for mentally ill adults, particularly paranoid schizophrenics?

Paranoid schizophrenia is a terrible disease that inflicts great suffering on both ill persons and their families. It's also associated with violent and irrational acts. We need to understand it much better, and we need to treat it far, far better than we do. The mainstream newspapers feel neglected and unwanted these days, but this is the kind of story they can and should do well. Perhaps Judge Lefkow, once she has time to grieve, will use her story to avert future tragedies.

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