False Confidence About What Caused the Newtown Massacre

New York magazine commenters are usually smart and well-informed. Which is why this comment, on an article about “the forgotten victim”, Nancy Lanza, the shooter’s mother, stands out:

They say money cannot buy happiness [Adam's father is apparently rich], but when dealing with someone with a mental illness, it can go a long way toward paying to fix unhappiness — it can pay for good doctors, proper medication [emphasis added], care-givers/guardians, all the tools required to secure a property and keep the “patient” safe, AND giving the mentally ill person his ideal living situation, limiting the snits and tantrums that can lead to real anger, which, in turn can lead to acting out.

No doubt this particular commenter is smart and well-informed. Which makes the fact that he or she is perfectly sure that “proper medication” exists so scary, at least if this person had any control over me or anyone who mattered to me. It reminds me of people who think that if you’re fat all you have to do is eat less.

3 Responses to “False Confidence About What Caused the Newtown Massacre”

  1. TMS71 Says:

    I don’t know what ‘proper’ medication is but if effective medication really existed there would be many fewer problems with schizophrenia. I’m not an expert but from what I understand schizophrenia meds have tons of nasty side effects and all they do is suppress symptoms, they don’t exactly restore schizophrenics to a normal state. Schizophrenia is a horrible disease and there is no really effective treatment for it. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich. Also in the Adam Lanza case it seems his condition deteriorated very quickly, not really giving his mother much time to think about what to do about it.

    Seth: Well put. It isn’t just schizophrenia. No psychiatric drug restores the person who takes it to a normal state, as far as I know. Lithium, given for bipolar disorder, causes massive weight gain, for example.

  2. Zach Says:

    TMS71, what are your standards for effective medication? No one claims that medication for schizophrenia (or, as far as I am aware, any other mental illness) is intended to be curative. The sole objective is to treat the symptoms, and of course there will be trade-offs, and the effects may be marginal in cases.

    Seth: I think it’s a narrow reading to assert that the proper medication reference asserts that such a thing necessarily exists. However I do believe that for some mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, there are medications for which the balance between symptom alleviation and side-effects lies clearly in favor of the drug for many (perhaps most) individuals. My sister has schizophrenia, and my family spent three years trying to help her without medication. Those years were wasted as best we can tell, whereas with medication she has made steady progress for the past six years.

    I think it is likely that many patients are worse of with the medications they take than they would be otherwise. Your concerns about antidepressants are likely well-founded. However, I don’t think this is necessarily contradictory with them having substantial benefits for many users as well.

    I’ve been thinking about this the past couple of days. For many of these drugs, we don’t have a clear understanding of how they work. I suspect that in many instances we have barely identified some (potentially) faulty mechanism and are in essence trying to hit the TV on its side, hoping the image clears up. Sometimes this makes matters worse; sometimes it improves them. However, if the effect is consistent on the individual level and the harm is reversible, then there is every reason to try it out. It is important to be aware that some people are suffering, and I appreciate what you do in highlighting this issue, as most people seem to underestimate it substantially. However, sometimes it seems like you think positive outcomes never happen, which troubles me.

    Seth: With schizophrenia it’s hard to imagine a cure (restoration to normal). Presumably it is due to developmental mis-wiring that is not reversible. With depression and bipolar disorder, however, it is entirely possible that sufferers could be cured in the same sense that giving Vitamin C for scurvy produces a cure. What is hard for outsiders and even insiders to see is how much the current emphasis on drugs makes it harder to do the research that would find the causes of depression and bipolar disorder. There may be short-term gain (people with depression suffer less) but long-term cost (a cure is less likely to be found within the next ten or twenty or thirty years). From this point of view the question of “how good are drugs?” is more complicated than just adding up the costs and benefits for the current group of people taking them.

  3. Peter Fleming Says:

    ThisWhole over medicating is way out of control. There are fantastically loyal people out there who have very proud very well respected backgrounds. They maybe a bit aggressive. They may be a bit odd. They are given shit medication and get beaten to a pulp by some punk. Then you have made an enemy who has real power.
    Women are the words culprits for pestering men to see a shrink. All that happens is men learn to hate and avoid women. It is the cause of womens problems not the cure. If you don’t like a Mans behavior get him of of your life. Don’t have the arrogance to call him ill. It is a dangerous world. If you take away his survival skills and he is hurt women become his true enemy.
    Just stop trying to play shrink and we might survive this fucking medication induced fiasco we call the world. Do Gooding morons. Bettera punch in the face than a premeditated fire arm blood bath on kids.