But He Came From Such A “Nice” Family

The above title to this post is actually a favored euphemistic comment offered by Southerners, and perhaps in other regions of the the USA, when perplexed observers, especially small townsfolk, offer to explain the seemingly inexplicable, ‘when someone goes bad.’ I think in the history of the Old South, it was used to describe people’s reactions to news that a well regarded person in the community had surprised if not stupefied everyone who knew that person, by doing some totally out of character bad deed. The local long time lawyer embezzling an elderly lady’s fortune, the head of the local town and sometimes only bank in the 1930’s making off with the bank’s funds and bankrupting the entire town etc. But much more often the scenario would involve that old bugaboo of sex. A scandalous affair, murder of a previous secreted paramour, backsliding into “sin,” and committing some crime “under the influence.” The reason/excuse/rationalization or just plain befuddled explanation offered to one’s friends or even if only to oneself, was the shibboleth, that ‘he [still] came from a nice family.” This harkened back to the days of the Antebellum South where good taste, being racially true and pure, whatever that was, always opening doors for ladies, always being polite and courteous to your worst enemy of romantic rival, having :good rearing,” by a “respected family” that was very successful, as somehow in most societies, perhaps perverted to an extreme in our modern business emphasis of greed and wealth as the only true standards of measure of a person, success equaled inviolate certainly of a steady moral compass in that person.

This past week we have had two nearly simultaneous scandals involving on the one hand, one of our lauded and over-idealized families of the national psyche, and a former highly regarded, middle America, salt of the earth, pillar of the community politician and warmly regarded former leader of Congress, emerge under new undeniable clouds of nefarious and to use a dated perhaps non “PC” [politically correct] phrase, “perverted’ circumstances. Of course I am referring to the public plights and perhaps overly well deserved media lashings now being suffered by Joshua Duggar of the “19 Kids and Counting,” TLC family reality television show about the now famous Duggar family, and, the former and longest serving in USA political history’s Speaker of the House, the former Honorable Dennis Hastert of the Midwest, the moral center point of our nation’s moral center if there is one.

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Some Scientific Backdrop To Stalking

My previous past concerned my own harrowing experience with a determined stalker. I had intended though I had not specified in that post that I would follow it up with a more studied explanation from “the literature” of my profession on stalking.

The author is a forensic psychologist of great skill and renown, having read a number of his articles and heard a few addresses by him at really good meetings, I turned to his body of work to try to find a single piece that I hoped would cover this subject well. My memory was right and through the magic of Google I found just such a source that is comprehensive and well written enough to actually be understood, no small task in our complex field who subject matter often strains the limits of language.

The author is Dr. J. Reid Meloy and his piece though a bit dated, published in 2007, is quite good and worth reading. The reference in the old fashioned method is “Editorial: Stalking: the state of the science,” in Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 17: 1-17, 2007, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Focusing on the psychological phenomenology of stalking, he writes of the legal consensus that “three elements are necessary: an intentional activity, a credible threat, and the induction of fear in the victim.” He further expands these elements writing :it seems apparent that there must be a pattern of unwanted pursuit, the behavior must pose an implicit or explicit threat o the safety of the victim, and the victim must experience fears as a result of the intentional behavior of the pursuer.”

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Effect of the Stalker on My Backwards Vision

As a psychiatrist I have had my share of experiences with stalkers. Recently I had a reminder of my own experiences with this awful process, that is not really germane here and now. I have had several persons haunt my house, scare members of my family by looming outside dark windows on rainy nights, paint weird threats on one or another of my little “station cars,” my jalopies that just get me to the hospital and back and which none of my children would ever ride in…

But I too had a long experience with a determined stalker. I am not sure when stalkers made it into the national media and our shared national conscious awareness but for me it was when one of the prominent young comedienne stars of the popular late 1980’s tv sitcom My Sister Sam, Rebecca Schaeffer, was stalked, shot and killed by her assailant and lunatic ‘admirer’ as stalkers were euphemistically termed in those rather innocent days, Robert Bardo. Ms. Schaeffer was at that time a very affectionately regarded young comedy starlet, only 21 years old and likely had a potentially promising career ahead of her. Old clips of the show, reminded me of tv when it had a much more open, fresh and enjoyable ring to the humor which may well be in shorter supply these days.

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Children’s Brain Are Indeed Harmed by Poverty

A very recent article in the Wall Street Journal published in its weekend edition of May 16-17, 2015 entitled “The Income Gap In the Growth of Children’s Brains,” penned by Ms. Alison Gopnik in the column entitled Mind and Matter,

After 30 years of Reagan style “Trickle Down Economics,” which as my biased mind understands it, jobs are created for the workers further down the employment food chain, when the wealthy get wealthier and spend great amounts of their monies starting more factories, thereby “manufacturing” more jobs for the non-CEOs among us, which is apparently the majority. The only trouble is, most of the new factories have migrated for three decades out of this country to the Third World’s developing economies with labor costs approximately 1/20th of the American economy’s. Consequent to this, millions upon millions of children have entered the state of poverty in numbers not seen since the segregation era. Now comes what I believe will the first wave of scientific study that will talk about the white elephant in the room, the damage done by poverty status to the developing brains of very young children who cannot pull themselves up by their Reaganomic bootstraps and pull themselves out of their worlds in no money for school lunch, mayonnaise and margarine sandwiches; and forget about all the other essential but costly “food groups.”

The white elephant that has been so hard to talk about directly and for some quarters who do not accept that social factors can be supremely cruel causes of social problems, who view sociological explanations of societal unrest, periodic but predictable outbreaks of massive social unrest [read RIOTING and all that goes with it…] as being heresy against ‘the American Way’ and belief system that ‘anyone can make it’ if they are determined enough.

Ms. Gopnik’s summary reports on an MIT study headed by John Gabriell and colleagues demonstrated in a controlled, comparative study that low income children had consistently thinner layers of their cortices, the other layers of the advanced areas of the brain, the cerebral cortexes ( or more properly speaking: cortices ) that perform many of the higher functions of the brain. These effects were tellingly independent of being a member of any ethnic or racial group. The measures of cortical functioning, intelligence, cognitive processing, etc., were lower in children with thinner outer cortical layers.

Brain development correlating with higher cognitive functioning has been studied in many animal models since for over 60 years in the neuroscience research communities in scores of major universities. We can now state with complete confidence, that the brain is a wonderful “plastic” organ. This means that the brain has the unique ability to make itself over, remake itself, and spur its development in different directions in response to the type of experience the host animal/child goes through in its formative development. Whether the organism is the primitive flatworm, the staple of experimental neuroscience: the “lab rat,” or the higher mammals, i.e., primates, the early experiences of that organism’s social and environmental experience drives the brain development. Experiments since Harry Harlow’s deprivation of baby monkeys from the reassuring holding by their mother, produces tragically socially deficient, sad, depressed, fearful monkeys as they matured. The concept of periods of “critical (brain) development came to be well accepted dogma in our understanding in the interplay between brain and experience. Rene Spitz the famous French pediatrician in Paris of nearly a century ago discovered the same phenomenon in human infants. These children were ‘housed’ in individual cribs in ‘foundling homes,’ or orphanages in our modern parlance. These infants and toddlers had atrociously low contact with a mothering figure. The nuns routinely cared for up to 60 infants at a time. They could only spend enough time to change diapers or bathe these children and little else. No individual play, reading or cuddling, rocking or singing. These children were found to have the then termed syndrome of “infantile autism” or “depression,” and demonstrate the sad phenomenon of “ruminating,” in which they would regurgitate their feedings into their mouths, chew it over and over again, so starved for soothing self stimulation were they.

We also know that developing immature organisms, whether baby rats, other mammals or infant-toddler-preschool children do less well with exposure to violence, chronic stress and/or existential uncertainty that comes from not knowing if one’s parent will be sober, i.e., awake or able to feed one, from one dad to the next.

Factor into this malignant development recipe for any vulnerable child, the inability of the family to afford even the most modest learning experiences, no Golden Books, no LeapPad, no television upon which to watch the wealth of early childhood learning programs that got their real start with Children’s Television Workshop’s famous Sesame Street. And you have an under-stimulated child’s brain at a time when it is needed most and most receptive to such that accelerates social and intellectual development.

And this finding highlights once again from a different perspective the enormous importance of the HeadStart educational programs of all kinds that start educational-social experiences of the post toddler. One can never start too early to enrich the developmental experience of the very young.


Mass Shooters Are Less “Psychotic” Than Commonly Believed

One of the very understandable, beliefs, and possibly myths, about the past few decades of mass shooting incidents this country and others have suffered in a seemingly increase in occurrence of these horrific events, that most if not all of the shooters are “crazy,” or psychotic, actively mentally ill, deranged or just plain “off the chain.”

One of the earliest riveting examples of this was the ?Long Island Railway shooter of a number of years ago, who went on a shooting rampage killing a number of passengers randomly. It did turn out that he was indeed very psychotic and had been suffering from a major unchecked psychotic disorder, and that his shooting rampage was delusionally driven. This came out at his trial very clearly through testimony. His case was one of the national consciousness level cases that locked this sometimes erroneous impression into the national psyche and elevated  such a rare fluke like event to a nearly universally accepted knee jerk easy explanation whenever another of these incidents occurred. This was driven by the reassuring power to all of us at some level that we were ‘by odds’ safe from ever coming into the sights of such a rare individual.

However this method of distancing ourselves from the arena of the fantasied “remote” possibility of such a tragedy touching our lives was strained as it seemed that seemingly an everyday Joe husband, with over controlling jealous though often unsupported rages killing their  wives were found not to be mentally ill and acting out of a different social phenomenon. The beginning of the school shootings, perhaps the one of Arkansas a number of years before Columbia in which literally a young middle school student commandeered his family’s rife and started sniper shooting at his school mates began to jolt the national explanation out of credibility and point toward a more unsettling state of affairs, that one did not have to be stereo-typically “nuts,” crazy,” or psychotic, that ordinary persons including kids could suddenly be moved to commit such horrendous acts.

It started to be harder and harder to maintain as the automatic self reassuring explanation that made one feel safe if one was able to attribute the cause of the next incident to a mental vision of the very rare deranged killer who popped up out the lottery bowl ping pong ball numbers making their appearance “against all odds.”

Now comes a study that proves that psychotic symptoms, the behavioral and mental markers, identifiers, characteristics and legally accepted criteria for psychotic mental illness mostly are NOT present in the make up or motivating factors of mass shooters and are NOT the driving cause for their shooting episodes.

This article entitled “Hallucinations Rarely Precede Mass Shootings, Originally Posted by Yasmin Anwar-UC Berkeley on May 13, 2015,” makes for enlightened reading and offers welcome, though unsettling, additional information and increased basis for understanding somewhat more fully the motivations of the modern mass shooters from teens to adults. The research  proven fact derived from interviews post shooting acts conclusively shows that the vast majority of mass shooters did not have psychotic symptoms such as delusions or hallunications driving their acts of mass shootings as is more and more commonly thought by the public and it seems by our all too superficial national media in their hyperdrive for easy explanations for the news events that cover endlessly to fill the bottomless pits of 24 hour a day news cycles.

Some of the more relevant and somewhat startling points of counterintuitive knowledge include:

that a literature review of over 300 violent incidents in the United States found only 12 percent occurred in the setting of active psychosis and were derived by the false beliefs an perceptions that are part and parcel of actively psychotic mental states.

Other foundations and reasons for such violence involved brutality, anger toward separated spouses, rampant substance abuse and access to firearms at the times of heightened stimulant states to violence. These were far, far more common precipitants to mass violence than elements of psychosis.

“High-profile mass shootings capture public attention and increase vigilance of people with mental illness,” says lead author Jennifer Skeem, a clinical psychologist and associate dean of research at the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, stated in the study: :our findings clearly show that psychosis rarely leads directly to violence.”

Researchers focused on the most violent patients tracked in the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment study, a major 1998 analysis of more than 1,100 offenders who had been discharged from psychiatric facilities.

Specifically, they looked at a subgroup of 100 high-risk patients, who had been involved in two or more violent incidents in the year after they were discharged from a psychiatric facility, to establish their mental states at the time they committed acts of violence.

“We wanted to examine the small group of people with repeated violence and see how consistently these violent incidents were caused by hallucinations and delusions,” Skeem says.

In a preceding study headed by Dr. Skeem, records of prior mentally ill offenders who has committed severe acts of violence were interviewed about what they were thinking and feeling immediately before they engaged in the acts of violence; as an additional source of corroborating data, the retrospective information their friends and family members had to contribute about the times of the offenses were collected.

The very telling finding was proven that psychosis occurred prior to the offenses and multiple violent acts in only 12 percent of the violent acts these patients who had been incarcerated for their offenses following their release for these acts!  Far more telling was the finding was the common circumstance that in subsequent violent acts in these offenders whose prior acts HAD been committed in states free of mental illness.

For the last few months in the Boston Marathon Tsaronov trial and the Batman Theater Killer shooting in Aurora movie theater trials, we have been and will be further subjected to the confusing airing of definitions of psychosis in legal terms, whether the shooters were suffering from mental illness or not. There may even be yet another “battle of the experts,” of forensic examiners who draw diametrically opposed conclusions about the mental mind set of James Wilson, Colorado shooter. These cases usually further confuse the public who cannot be expected to be intimately familiar with the complicated and subtle fine points of legal definitions of insanity as it relates to legal culpability. Yet these differences between the long evolved legal historical bases of legal insanity and psychiatric clinical definitions of insanity/psychosis have been essential for rational use by the criminal justice system to make functional decisions of such portent.

These trials and the inevitable future similar trials as further perpetrators of mass shootings and murderous violence, will hopefully gradually elevate the public’s grasp of the bases for our country’s determinations concerning these baffling and crimes with causative factors that almost always involve factors and long evolved highly personality motives outside the experiences of nearly all of the rest of us.