The XX Factor

Did Jared Lee Loughner Need Psychiatric Help He Didn’t Get?

In the speculation about what prompted Jared Lee Loughner to spray bullets on Sunday, Democrats emphasize violent political imagery and Republicans stress Loughner’s apparent mental illness. If you go with the GOP’s preferred explanation, shouldn’t you next ask what kind of psychiatric care Loughner got?

Vaughan Bell usefully reminds us that knowing that someone has schizophrenia or bipolar disorder doesn’t tell us whether he or she has a propensity for violence. But untreated mental illness can explode, even if the vast majority of mentally-ill people never hurt anyone. It’s striking how many students and teachers who knew Loughner warned that he was scary. The Arizona Republic reports that “Loughner had multiple run-ins with police at Pima Community College for causing disruptions in classrooms and the library, college officials said.” The college kicked him out and “said he couldn’t come back until he got a mental-health clearance and proved he wasn’t a danger to himself and others.” Did Loughner need help he didn’t get? Does Pima have any mental health services for students? Is this seen as a luxury that this school and other community colleges can’t afford, and if so, is it time to rethink that?

University counseling centers report that the rate of serious mental illness on college campuses is rising. That’s a good thing, in that it means greater access to opportunity for kids whose mental health problems would have earlier sidelined them. But it puts a greater burden on the schools. Here’s a good NYT article about how counseling centers are trying to deal and are sometimes overwhelmed. Does Pima fall into this category, or did it simply ask students like Loughner to leave? What should we expect from community colleges faced with kids like him?