Would better system have helped?
The federal government can act on this travesty only at the margins. It is largely up to the states. They can make a real difference by stopping the further closure of public hospital psychiatric beds and making it easier to compel treatment. Civil-commitment laws that require imminent danger to self or others are too strict. As DJ Jaffe of Mental Illness Policy Org puts it, that standard doesn't prevent violence, it requires violence in order to get care to someone too irrational to realize that he needs it.
When they are treated, the seriously mentally ill aren't more violent than the general population. If untreated, though, they are. The evidence is in our ongoing roll call of horrors perpetrated by the deranged.
We don't know yet if Adam Lanza was mentally ill, or if a better system would have helped him. We do know that somewhere out there a young man is about to get very sick. He could become the next Jared Loughner or James Holmes — unless someone gets him treatment.
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