What “60 Minutes” Gets Wrong in Report on Mental Illness and Violence

Posted on October 3, 2013

On Sunday night the television news program 60 Minutes broadcast “Untreated mental illness an imminent danger?” Correspondent Steve Kroft introduces the report by stating: “The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard two weeks ago that resulted in the deaths of 13 people, including the gunman, was the 23rd such incident in the past seven years. It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore the fact that the majority of the people pulling the triggers have turned out to be severely mentally ill–not in control of their faculties–and not receiving treatment.”

The problems with the show begin with its basic premise. Contrary to Kroft’s assertion, some mass shooters have received psychiatric treatment–including prescriptions for medications–prior to erupting into violence. The Navy Yard shooter, Aaron Alexis, was prescribed the antidepressant trazodone in August. James Holmes saw a psychiatrist before killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater last year. According to the Los Angeles Times, police found the antidepressant sertraline and sedative clonazepam in Holmes’s apartment.

Kroft’s discussion of the pros and cons of drug treatment is cursory, at best. He notes that anti-psychotic drugs can make patients “listless or groggy, which is one of the reasons people with severe mental illness often stop taking them.” Kroft says to Mike Robertson, a young man diagnosed with schizophrenia, “A lot of people with your illness say the drugs make them feel worse. They just hate it.” Robertson replies, “Yeah. I can see that with the side effects. But it’s better than having schizophrenic symptoms.”

Viewers hear nothing about other serious side effects of anti-psychotic medications, which range from obesity and diabetes to uncontrollable tremors, or tardive dyskinesia. Nor does Kroft acknowledge that, even disregarding side effects, medications for mental illness do not work very well.

As Harvard psychiatrist Stephen Hyman, a former director of the National Institute of Mental Health, wrote recently, “many individuals with mental disorders remain symptomatic and often disabled despite existing treatments … For some significantly disabling conditions, such as the core social deficits of autism and the cognitive impairments of schizophrenia, there simply are no effective treatments.”

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Category(s):Depression, Schizophrenia

Source material from Scientific American

Mental Health News