Arizonia Shooting and Emotional IllnessBehavior, Parents — By Cindy on January 12, 2011 at 1:58 pm
We typically focus on developmental disabilities and autism but we could not pass up this opportunity to talk a little bit about children/teens and emotional illness.
Jared Lee Loughner is a sick young man. Truly a man with a serious emotional illness. One that seemed to present itself enough that people in his environment recognized the atypicalities of his personality. Just from reading the news articles -there are a few things that seem to jump out as red flags. So, we are going to play the role of ‘arm-chair’ quarterback in hopes to educate and bring awareness of the topic of emotional illness.
We need to preface this by saying that we are not psychiatric experts/forensic experts by any means but we are experienced in working with children and teens who have emotional challenges. So this is from the viewpoint of a school psychologist who is experienced in working with children/teens at a time in their lives when red flags of emerging emotional illness first present themselves in a school environment.
Points of Concern about Jared (as indicated by several media sources):
- Inability to appropriately socialize with same age-typical peers
- Questons of drug experimentation/alcohol use
- Inability to keep stable employment
- Inappropriate behavior even at his place of employment
- Preoccupation with questionable movies/books/topics of study/games
- Written expression/stories were atypical and difficult to follow
- Trouble with following rules of society/laws
- Couldn’t get along with co-workers even though he appeared to crave attention
- Atypically mannerly to the point of it seeming odd and out of context
- Talked to himself and would even yell out to no one
- Verbally threaten children in the neighborhood
- Family members present with ‘odd’ behavior/way of life – isolation
- Preoccupation with weapons
- While in college his personality began making significant changes
- emerging paranoia and sense of doom
- Sleep issues
Those were just a few and we are certain that more about this young man’s background will surface soon. But where does lead us – what can we learn about this case? We have students 6 to 8 hours a day. Many times the students who get our attention are the ones who externally express their emotional struggles through fighting, creating chaos, yelling out, and/or abusing themselves. But what about the students who just express their emotional atypicalities through their writings? What about those who can’t make friends because their peers find them too odd? Those students should be noticed, monitored and assitance given to them so that they will have their emotional needs met.
How? The first line of defense in a school (Preschool through 12th grade) is either a counselor or a school psychologist. Most schools have access to a psychologist who is skilled in recognizing red flags in children. Start here. Don’t just ignore the child’s idiosyncratic behaviors – examine to see if these behaviors are a cry for help.
If you are a parent who is worried about your child – do the same. Make an appointment with the counselor at your child’s school. Make an appointment with the psychologist who serves your child’s school. Make notes of the things that concern you about your child. Research what is typical for a child his/her age. What is most difficult is when your child is an only child or if you tend to be isolated from other children the same age. In that situation you do not have a ‘ruler’ to measure your child’s emotional development/functioning – in other words the only way you know if your child is developing/functioning normally is to compare to your own history which is difficult to remember. Teachers? They have hundreds of children as a comparison but the parent of an only child does not.
Contact the local mental health facility. They are experts in all areas of emotional illness. You can also speak to your child’s medical doctor as they will also be able to guide you.
Here are a few resources that will get you started – remember the first thing to do is to get your bearing and determine what is normal/typical for a child his/her age and what is not.
NAMI the National Alliance of Mental Illness has a wealth of information
NIMH this is for grades 6 -8 and talks about the science of mental illness
Publications for NIMH on several different topics of interest
This is enough to get you researching. We do not want you to overreact and begin second guessing your child’s every move but we also do not want you to put your head in the sand and pretend things aren’t happening until they become serious problems.
Just be aware and knowledgable.