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Signs we can no longer ignore

Subtle signs at home, workplace and school have to be identified to avoid the making of more Adam Lanzas, write Srishti Jha and Neyaz Farooquee.

health and fitness Updated: Dec 23, 2012 01:43 IST

Around the same time when Adam Lanza was walking the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut USA, executing young children, another man named Min Yongjun in China stabbed 22 kids at a primary school in Henan province.

Both had unresolved mental issues. Such cases abound though the scale of such violence varies depending upon the severity of mental illness, weaponry and response.

Experts say that in most cases it’s not easy for a common man to identify someone like Lanza and Yongjun but a pattern emerges if observed over a period of time.

“Unfortunately, there is no exact tool that can differentiate normal from abnormal, especially when the issues are more to do with one’s personality,” says Sanjay Chugh, senior consultant psychiatrist.

He adds that personality problems usually manifest themselves across a range of situations and one would notice a certain amount of consistency in the person’s maladaptive behaviour.

It’s reported that Lanza had Asperger Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. “But that doesn’t necessarily say that he would turn into a killer.

The degree of instability is quite unpredictable.” says Manju Mehta, Professor, Pyschiatry at AIIMS. There is more to it, she suggests.

"A majority of people with mental health issues are not a threat and we all have mental health concerns at one time or another," says Ameeta Shah, psycho-spiritual healer and therapist.

According to the World Health Organisation’s recent report, India is among the top 10 countries from where cases of mental sickness are reported in significant numbers.

About 17% of the global population currently is suffering from multidisciplinary ailments and mental disorders.

As its difficult to figure out if something is wrong in cases related to mental illness due to lack of a particular pattern unlike other diseases, the threat remains unidentified for a long time.

The person can remain normal for months before showing signs of sudden aggression, abnormality or suicidal tendencies. Says Shah, “we cannot look at every person’s action in a paranoid way. We need to be alert but not fearful. We should ‘be aware and not beware’.

“It’s very difficult to identify madness. It can only be figured out if a silent position of anonymity turns into a public face. In most of the cases, gun becomes a form of expression,” says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan.

The nuanced signs of maladjustment have to be identified if any one around is turning into a Lanza or a Yongjun. Symptoms of mental illness are not easily noticeable.

Adam was not on anyone’s radar; there were no warning signs or any apparent triggers for his psychotic break. A mentally ill person could exhibit the most usual or unusual patterns of behaviour — they could be introvert who prefers the company of their own thoughts or even someone who believes they can speak to celestial bodies. It should alarm the one who is close enough to observe the pattern.

While these signs are hardly enough to certify and define the behaviour of a person, “there is not such a thing as only one type of potentially dangerous people,” says Shah.

But if a person feels alienated and additionally has access to weapons, it turns dangerous and leads to mass murder-type actions against others as if ‘they are the ones rejecting’ him, suggests she.

The deep rooted fear of being judged and discrimination hinders people to share their mental health related problems with their family, friends and colleagues.

Says sociologist Dipankar Gupta, "we lack confidentiality in the professional circuit. Such people need to be provided with a comfort zone where they can share their issues and ask for help. Communication should be encouraged in such cases."

According to a study of mass shootings in the US since 1982 by Mother Jones, a magazine based in the US, says that majority of the killers in the mass shooting in the US are those who either have or had mental issues who managed to get a hold of weapons and went on a killing spree.

But the question this raises is whether an Adam Lanza is a heinous perpetrator of a massacre or is he in fact the victim of a mental disorder, which so often goes unnoticed and, at times, is simply swept under the rug.

Back in India, mental health issues are considered by most a stigma. “Mental health problems are very much like a heart or kidney disease. It should be treated by society simply as a brain-related issue,” says senior psychiatrist Sameer Malhotra.

*Recent cases in India
Man kills wife, dumps body with kids’ help

Mumbai, Dec 12
After killing his wife, a man in tried to dump her body with the help of his daughter aged 12 and son aged 6. To his bad luck, he was caught in a CCTV installed in the neighbourhood. He tried to dispose the body in a gunny sack, with the help of his kids, who were probably unaware of their mother’s body in the sack. He later fled to his village and police is trying to get hold of him.

Denied money, husband slits wife’s throat
Mumbai, Dec 19
Vijay Gaikwad,43, slit his wife’s throat with a razor blade when his wife,a sweeper, 36, denied him money. He raped her on knife point in front of her kids. He repeatedly assaulted the kids and threatened to kill them and defame her if she goes public. He allegedly married her for her money. He later tried to flee but was grabbed by eyewitnesses and is undergoing trial for rape and murder charges.

Depressed mother kills mentally ill son, self
Bharuch, Surat, Nov 26
Depressed about her son being mentally ill, Rasila Patel, a Bharuch resident killed her 12 year old son by giving him pesticide in the food and later committed suicide by hanging herself. She left a suicide note which said that she didn’t want to live as she was worried due to her son’s poor mental health. Police found her body hanging from ceiling and her son’s body was found in the room.Nov26

Girl shot dead for objecting to urinating in public
Delhi, Nov 23
A 17-year-old girl Binoo, in
Delhi was shot dead by a man when she objected to him urinating in public. The infuriated man went back saying that he would see her later and came back to the girl’s apartment with a pistol and shot her dead. He also shot her mother, Sadmani, who survived the attack. The police hasn’t found any evidence of a prior dispute going between their families.

*Recent cases around the world
Man stab kids at a school with a knife, 20 injured
Henan Province, China, Dec 14
36-year-old Min Yingjun, entered a primary school
in China’s Henan province, stabbed 20 children and an
adult with a knife — injuring several kids. Many of the kid got their fingers severed and ears chopped. It was reported in media that Yingjun was suffering from a mental illness.

2 week old baby punched by dad, dies
North Carolina, US, Dec 6
20-year-old Brian Fazier, punched his 2 week old son
for getting fussy and
interrupting him while he
was engrossed in his night
long game session. The child died of his injuries. Fazier tried to hide the truth but was caught later and was charged with first degree murder.

Man opens fire at a movie theatre
San Antonio, US, Dec 18
Garcia, 19, an employee at a restaurant fired several random shots inside his restaurant and walked into a theatre nearby. There he fired more shots, injuring one person and self. He was depressed and upset after break up with his girlfriend. Later he threatened to shoot her.

Mother kills 7 year old son for not memorising the religious text
London, Dec 8
Sara Ege, 33, killed her son for not memorising the religious text. Later she set his body on fire to erase the evidence. A graduate from India, she was found guilty by court of beating her son Yaseen Ege to death at their home in Cardiff.