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Robinson Meyer and Alexis C. To understand exactly how that breakdown occurs, I spoke with John Snook, the director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, which pushes for more robust mental-health treatment.
An edited transcript of our conversation follows. Olga Khazan: The suspect in this shooting seemed to have strange things he did that did not qualify as criminal, but were nevertheless concerning. What can people do if their loved one is, say, talking a lot about guns, or acting strangely, but not necessarily in a criminal way, and they want to get them into some sort of psychiatric treatment?
John Snook: The law is actually different in every state. That, unfortunately, becomes something of a barrier [to] getting care. In Florida, the system is so starved that you really are only getting care through law enforcement.
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Law enforcement needs to off on those situations. When it comes to mental health, every single part of the system is broken.
That is obviously a simple place to start. Ror, every angle that you can think of for looking at the system for getting someone care for mental illness is essentially broken in Florida. Khazan: How would it work in a state that does fund mental-health care more generously? There are options for providing care to a person in the community.
Arizona [is an example of a state that] has started to do a good job of coordinating that continuum of care. The family will say, once they turned 18, I lost them.
They were too sick to understand they needed care, and the system completely shut us out. Khazan: What about involuntary commitment?
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Snook: Each state has its own requirement. About half the states have updated their standards to move to something more like a medical determination. But in Pennsylvania, for example, the standard is, are you a clear and looikng danger? Snook: It is more difficult in those situations.
You want to try to engage the family if you can. If it seems like an emergency, call or your local mental-health professionals. The local mental-health agency will almost always have an emergency you can call. Are there diagnoses other than schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that could potentially lead to violence?
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Snook: In some of these incidents, the man who shot ijsane the Fort Lauderdale airportfor example, that was an obvious case regarding serious mental illness. Those are the cases where people struggle to figure out answers. There are risk factors for violence that are pretty well-researched at this point, like prior episodes of violence, prior domestic-violence incidents.
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In a state like Florida, sheriffs are able to initiate the commitment process. Because the system is so broken there, you will have sheriffs doing far more involuntary commitments than they do arrests for drunk driving or assault and battery. None of them want to be spending their day [doing this]. Khazan: What are the main things that insanr to be done to improve this situation?
Snook: The simplest thing is we need to take mental illness seriously. We have to invest.