Goshen News, Goshen, IN

January 31, 2014

Drawing a distinction between mental illness and violence

By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
sherry.vanarsdall@goshennews.com

---- — GOSHEN — Mental illness doesn’t always equate to violence.

“99.9 percent of the patients we treat aren’t violent,” said Matthew Lentsch, Executive Director of Marketing and Development at Oaklawn Psychiatric Center. “When someone needs help and the earlier they get intervention, the better. Mental illness is a brain disorder and when patients get the treatment they need, they are compliant and do very well.”

Lentsch says a person can be troubled or unstable but not have a mental disorder and that everybody has free will to make a choice.

The gunman who killed two people in an Elkhart Martin’s supermarket Jan. 15 before being shot dead by police had a criminal history in Elkhart County.

Shawn W. Bair, 22, pleaded guilty to a Class D felony charge of theft May 17, 2010, in Elkhart Superior Court 4. He was sentenced June 15 that year.

Bair received an 18-month sentence in that case, with all but six months suspended. He was ordered to serve that sentence with the Elkhart Community Corrections program, and also serve a year of probation. As a term of his probation, Bair was to enroll in the outreach program at the Oaklawn mental health facility, attend individual therapy and obtain a primary doctor or nurse practitioner. Bair was also ordered to obtain an addictions assessment at Oaklawn and follow-up.

“Without a doubt, the person was troubled, but mentally ill, I don’t know,” Lentsch said. “Just because someone in the community did something that was totally unthinkable and awful. That is irresponsible. It’s a wake-up call but lumping mental illness and violence together is a stigma. Mental illness is a brain disorder and we can provide treatment for someone troubled or unstable.”

There are warning signs that indicate a person might have a mental illness and need help, said Darrin Miller, Director of Risk and Residential Services at Oaklawn Psychiatric Center.

What are some of the signs?

• A person loses enjoyment in activities.

• A person focuses on death or wants to be dead.

• A person has trouble sleeping.

“A person could have an episode of high anxiety and have a panic attack, which could be similar to a heart attack with symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness or being light-headed,” Miller said. “These partial signs and symptoms shouldn’t be ignored and people can learn to recognize them to help someone while waiting for professionals, if need be.”

What can be done if members of the public are concerned about a person seeming to be unstable or potentially violent?

Sometimes, a person may not want to be treated, because they are an adult and are independent, Miller said.

“The best thing is to call the police and they will do a wellness check and do an assessment of an individual,” Miller said. “They have the authority for an involuntary commitment if it can be shown a person is unstable by being a danger to their own self, a danger to others or being gravely impaired and not functioning.”

Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Jim Bradberry said police follow the Indiana Code for 24-hour and 72-hour commitment to put an individual in a mental health facility.

There are application criteria to be followed for the 72-hour commitment with a written application form that has to be submitted to the individual’s physician first, then it has to be filled out by a judge, Bradberry said.

“Then we are directed to go and take them to the mental health facility,” Bradberry said. “The 24-hour commitment usually happens (or comes about) during a medical call like when a person overdoses on medication or appears suicidal. We follow and go by the forms for that (24-hour commitment).”