The headline sums up the too-familiar story: “Suspect’s family: We could see this coming.”
The consequences are too familiar as well: On Wednesday, Ian L. Stawicki, 40 – who didn’t get treatment for “the mental-health problems that he refused to deal with” – shot and killed four victims and seriously wounded a fifth before fatally shooting himself in Seattle’s University District (“Seattle shootings: day of horror, grief in a shaken city,” Seattle Times, May 31).
The tragedy that timely treatment might have prevented stands out like a deadly exclamation point to a string of other mental health stories out of Washington lately.
- May 11: “Family, care providers detail need for mental health beds” about the absence of psychiatric hospital options for Snohomish County, home to more than 700,000 people
- May 21: “Costs shouldn’t factor in deciding mentally-ill inmates’ fates” about the prospect for further hospitalization – versus imprisonment – of a man found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity
- May 23: “OptumHealth’s mad medicine,” about “troubling developments” – suicides, suicide attempts, arrests – after psychiatric hospitalization was privatized in Pierce County, home to nearly 800,000
- May 30: “Mad medicine: Future of privatized mental health in Washington still unclear” about the likelihood of privatization spreading from Pierce County to neighboring King County – home to Seattle and nearly 2 million more Washingtonians – and elsewhere in the state
What we call “preventable tragedies” do not occur in a vacuum. Though rare, they occur when we as a society fail to recognize that nearly half of individuals with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are unable to recognize their own need for treatment.
To help them and to protect the public, court-ordered treatment can be a life-saver because – without their treatment – those of us who live and work with mental illness can see the consequences coming. For tragedy to be prevented, the public and elected officials need to see the consequences, too, and take action.
For a dramatic illustration of the lack of awareness that prevents individuals with untreated mental illness from seeking help, see our video, “Anosognosia.” Click here to read " 'We could see this coming,' brother says of man ID'd in Seattle killings" (NPR, May 31).