As personal details emerge about Jared Loughner, the man accused of shooting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, it's becoming clear that friends, relatives, classmates, teachers, and police knew he was mentally unstable long before the deadly rampage in Tucson. "A lot of people didn't feel safe around him," one former classmate said. Loughner was suspended from Pima Community College after complaints about his nonsensical questions, disruptive antics, and scary defiance in the classroom, but he apparently never received professional help. Why not? (Watch a PBS report about Loughner's mental state)
Blame state budget cuts: Loughner isn't the only one left untreated — only 36 percent of mentally troubled youth get professional help, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The stigma surrounding mental illness plays a part, says Zachary Roth in Yahoo! News, but mental health advocates say it's pretty clear what happened in Loughner's case. "Cuts to Arizona's mental health services wiped out funding for the kind of early detection and intervention programs that might have steered" Loughner into treatment. "Arizona this year slashed such services by $36 million, or 37 percent."
"Budget cuts, stigma cause mentally ill to fall through cracks"
No one took action: The people who were afraid of Loughner could have filed a petition with a court, says Meredith Simons in Slate. Then, the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona — the Tucson entity for handling mental health issues — could have evaluated his mental health. "Who knows what would have happened then?" But one thing's for sure: This young man "needed mental health help, and he didn't get it."
"Anyone could have requested a mental health evaluation for Jared Lee Loughner"
The law got in the way: Concerns over civil liberties make it nearly impossible to get a deranged person involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, says William Galston in The New Republic. We need legal reforms to make it easier to commit those who need help, not just when they present an "imminent" danger to themselves or others. "How many more mass murders and assassinations do we need before we understand that the rights-based hyper-individualism of our laws governing mental illness is endangering the security of our community and the functioning of our democracy?"
"The Tucson shooter and the case for involuntary commitment"
This is the conversation we should be having: Thank goodness we've moved on, says Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, from the left's attempts to blame the tragedy on the right's political rhetoric. But before we pass laws making it easier to put people in mental-health institutions, we need to remember that the current legislation was enacted starting in the 1970s to prevent abuses. So, yes, let's revisit those rulings but, first, let's be sure we fully understand "why Loughner wasn't treated and wasn't recognized as dangerous."
"Is it time for a national debate on the mentally ill?"