Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

In the wake of the latest gun rampage by a troubled young man, there is much to ponder: the pervasive misogyny in society, gun culture, the fragility of life and seeming randomness of violence.

But one issue that has not received near enough attention is what this latest incident tells us about the state of mental-health care.

Elliot Rodger suffered from mental illness – though it is not clear exactly what his condition was. Both police and family members have said that the 22-year-old had been in and out of therapy for several years and had been prescribed psychiatric medications, which he declined to take.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Rodger's family did everything in their power to get him help.

But when a loved one has a severe psychiatric illness, there is one thing every family will tell you: Dammit, it's hard to get them help.

It's cumbersome. It's frustrating. And, at times, it seems downright criminal how powerless families are to get help for those who desperately need it.

Mr. Rodger – who killed six people and wounded 13 others near the campus of the University of California Santa Barbara before taking his own life – was clearly troubled.

Police were sent to his home on prior occasions at the insistence of his family and after at least one other outburst of violence.

Police are not psychiatrists, or psychologists, or not social workers but the burden of judging the sanity/danger of individuals generally falls to them.

It is an unenviable but all too common task.

Story continues below advertisement

In some large cities, more than one in four police calls now involve the actions of people who suffer from mental illness and doing something deemed socially unacceptable – from public urination through to threatening/harming others.

For the record, it should be noted that research shows that people suffering from severe mental illness are more than 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. They are a far greater danger to themselves than to others.

There are, sadly, many many cases like that of Mr. Rodgers – people with untreated mental illness in the grips of psychosis. More often than not they end in suicide or other self-harm; but we only hear of them when the violence affects others.

Many pundits have said that this massacre was preventable: If only police had done more; if only the therapist had done more; if only he had been hospitalized. We live in a society that values freedom above all, and nowhere is that more true than the United States, where civil libertarianism extends to protecting Mr. Rodger's right to buy arms, despite being under psychiatric treatment.

Here is the bottom line: To help those who need help and refuse it (which is often a symptom of the illness itself) we need to restrain their freedoms.

Can we, in a democratic society, justify incarcerating or committing to hospital people who have committed no crime? Can we force people to take medication against their will for their own good and the greater good of society?

Story continues below advertisement

These are the uncomfortable questions we have to debate if these all too common incidents are going to end.

It is too facile to say none of this would have happened if Mr. Rodger had been committed to a psychiatric facility or compelled to take medication.

But what we can say is that it should be a lot easier for families to make that argument.

We should value the right of people to be well as much as their right to autonomy.

Being sick with a severe mental illness – especially one that makes one hateful, vengeful and violent – is not a right. It is a bloody travesty.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies