10 Horrifying Reasons to Question Today’s Mental Health Care Systems and the Sanity of Modern Psychiatry.
The aim of this list isn’t to encourage prejudice against the mentally ill. There is just so much evidence to show that the mentally ill can live happy, productive lives within community. They sometimes even demonstrate genius and contribute amazing things to humanity as a whole.
No one wants a return to the days when mentally ill folks got unnecessarily lobotomized or locked away in institutions for the duration of their lives. But those who require ongoing care in the community are now consistently receiving a greatly reduced quality of service when it comes to getting the help they need to stay well.
This is an age where primary concerns for health care service providers have become more about minimising expenses by trimming as much ‘fat’ from systems as possible. This is in order to beat competitors and ensure the renewal of contacts and ongoing profit.
Caring for people’s health has literally become subordinate to commercial concerns. Many people in western countries are falling through the cracks as a result. Applying a rationalist philosophy to health care might seem to save governments money, but what is the cost in human terms, and what is the actual monetary cost (for example, through law enforcement) when things go pear-shaped?
Australian researchers recently reassessed the widely believed idea that the mentally ill are no more violent than the general population. What they found was shocking. Nine percent of murders in the state of Victoria over a nine year period were committed by schizophrenics.
The same study indicated people with this illness were thirteen times more likely to kill than those who were mentally well. The study also found nearly half of all ‘critical incident’ reports filed by police in Victoria related to the mentally ill.
There are complicating factors. For instance, a Swedish study found the increased rate of violence among schizophrenics was confined to those who used drugs. But the Australians found that sixty percent of their killer schizophrenics had no history of substance abuse at all.
For decades, psychiatrists in Australia had been basing ideas and practices on the findings of the MacArthur study, which encouraged them to believe and assure everyone else that allowing the mentally ill to live freely within the community—and to be responsible for voluntarily accessing their own treatment from under-resourced mental health systems—was both humane and safe.
One professor of psychiatry had this to say on the subject: “The fact is that most of my colleagues, like the people who did the MacArthur study, genuinely came to believe that what they had finessed was absolutely true. It isn't. But they managed to convince the majority of health professionals that there is no increased risk of violence among the mentally ill.”
Now that mental health care has been ‘deinstitutionalized,’ should we still be focusing on the fact that the majority of mentally ill people pose no threat to anyone? Or is it time for a serious rethink around how ‘community care’ for the mentally ill in Western countries is funded and administered?
Here are ten horrifying cases of when the present system went tremendously wrong. You be the judge.
1 Anthony Waterlow
Anthony Waterlow stabbed his father and sister to death in a ‘frenzied attack.’ He believed they wanted him to commit suicide and they were responsible for creating a worldwide ‘game’ of harassment in which random strangers would try to control him. Waterlow’s mental health had been declining for some time. His family had made several attempts to get him admitted to psychiatric care but nobody had taken their concerns seriously, despite Waterlow’s threatening behaviour and the fact they were living in fear.
Several doctors had denied the family’s requests to have Waterlow put into compulsory care. They didn’t believe his degree of illness required him to be hospitalised, even though one doctor had written that Waterlow was “likely to be psychotic and a danger to himself and others.” Perhaps the most horrifying thing about this case was Waterlow’s statement of remorse once he had returned to his senses after a short time on anti-psychotics:
“Since I have been treated with the right medication, symptoms of schizophrenia have slowly gone away. This is a good thing, but it is also a terrible thing because it makes me aware of the awful reality of what I have actually done. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would kill Chloe and Dad, but I did, it was me and that is what I have got to live with.”
2 Nicholas Salvador
A jury in London, England, were shown footage taken from a police helicopter. The footage showed Nicholas Salvador, topless and armed with a machete, tearing down garden fences and killing cats which he believed at the time to be demonic. The jury was spared having to watch him stab and decapitate eighty-two-year-old great-grandmother Palmira Silva, whom Salvador believed to have been “some sort of supernatural entity such as Hitler back from the dead.” In the violent struggle with police that ended his rampage, Salvador had to be Tasered an amazing six times before he could be safely apprehended.
This case was unusual because both the prosecution and the defence actually agreed. Salvador was clearly insane and the video evidence was undeniable. Officially diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Salvador’s condition had doubtless been significantly inflamed by the large amounts of skunk cannabis he smoked regularly, cocaine binges, and the daily consumption of whole bottles of spirits such as brandy and whisky. The prosecutor concluded: “Mrs Silva was not targeted because of who she was. She just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
3 Alan Rogers
As a young woman, Enid Hatch endured a huge loss when her sister was murdered on a beach in South Wales by a mentally ill man who’d escaped from a nearby hospital. Just over forty years later, in an astounding twist of fate, her husband of fifty years, Fred Hatch, was battered to death by a delusional reclusive neighbour wielding a claw-hammer.
It was only two months since the couple had celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Mrs Hatch found her husband lying in a pool of blood, with massive head injuries, in the communal hallway of the apartment complex where they lived. Alan Rogers, the neighbour who had killed Mr Hatch, was calmly lying next to the body. Rogers had already called the police and confessed. He told police that he felt a ‘moral duty’ to kill Mr Hatch, and that he had been waiting for an opportunity to attack him. “They were using modern technology, the equivalent of witchcraft,” Rogers said. “He was in collusion with the main man.”
4 Nicola Edgington
Former psychiatric patient Nicola Edgington had been sitting in a hospital waiting room for some time. She phoned emergency services, saying, “I need for the police to come because I’ve had a nervous breakdown before and I killed someone.” She was referring to her own mother, whom she had killed seven years previously. At that time the judge had not convicted her of murder but had ordered her to be held indefinitely under the Mental Health Act. She had been released back into the community some three years later.
Now she had voluntarily walked into a psychiatric unit, and she was still waiting to be admitted. But the people at the reception desk did not seem to be taking her very seriously. She phoned the police again, telling them she was a very dangerous schizophrenic. “I'm getting more and more dangerous. The more scared I get, the more dangerous I'm getting. You don't seem to understand.”
She walked out of the hospital, bought a knife, and tried to kill a random stranger in the street, but this young woman wrestled the knife from Edgington and fought her off. Her next random target, a fifty-two-year-old woman, was more easily subdued. Edgington stole a second, much sharper knife from a butcher’s shop then repeatedly stabbed her victim in the head and neck, so ferociously that the woman was almost decapitated.
It seemed in this case once again the mental health system was at fault. Surely Edgington should never have been discharged from psychiatric care after killing her mother. However, the local authority in charge of the facility in which Edgington had been detained was satisfied no mistake had been made. The prosecution argued Edgington was not psychotic or delusional. Although she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in the past, she in fact suffered from borderline personality disorder; she was fully aware of what she was doing.
Edgington’s self-absorption and absence of empathy is horrifying. If she had just been trying to get some attention, then she certainly succeeded—but she did not succeed in getting away with murder. Her case illustrates the difficulty courts sometimes have in ruling on insanity pleas. After all, even if Edgington was found in the end to be ‘bad’ rather than ‘mad,’ her personality was so severely warped that it is hard to argue she was sane.
5 Byron Armstrong
Under the thrall of schizophrenic delusion and the influence of online gaming, twenty-four-year-old Byron Armstrong drove to a friend’s house in a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, smashed his way through the front door, and stabbed his friend to death. One of the knife thrusts was so forceful that it went right through the victim’s neck. Armstrong then drove home and attempted to kill himself by slashing his own wrists and then stabbing himself in the stomach. When this proved unsuccessful, he deliberately crashed his car.
During the court trial, a forensic psychiatrist testified that Armstrong had become obsessed with the fantasy game Magic: The Gathering. His victim had beaten him at the game some weeks previously and Armstrong had heard his friend’s voice inside his head taunting him about it. He visited a Mormon church and asked them if it was morally wrong to kill a demon. Motivated by his auditory hallucinations, the court heard that Armstrong had also killed his collection of tropical fish.
A Doctor, speaking on behalf of the local mental health authority, said he understood Armstrong’s family had “really tried hard to ensure their son got the treatment he needed. Our view is we could've done better and we apologise to them for that and are really sorry for what has happened." Armstrong was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity.
6 Desmond Brooks
Desmond Brooks was forty-two years old and about to be deported back to Jamaica after serving a jail sentence for possessing cannabis. Since emigrating to England in 2002, he had accumulated a total of ten cannabis related charges.
In 2015, Brooks went berserk with a kitchen knife and meat cleaver, stabbing his partner multiple times and cutting off two of her fingers as she raised her hands to defend herself. People who examined her injuries later testified that the damage inflicted by Brooks was the worst they had seen.
After killing his partner, Brooks left the apartment, told a concerned neighbour to mind his own business, and promptly walked to his ex-wife’s nearby home. He began stabbing her in the same frenzied manner as soon as she answered the door. His ex-wife’s younger sister jumped on his back, trying to stop him, and Brooks then turned on her. The sister barricaded herself in a bathroom—protecting a seven-year-old boy, who was covered in blood and screaming—but Brooks still managed to stab her several times before moving on. Thanks to the young sister’s bravery it seems, both women in the second apartment survived.
Brooks gave himself up to police soon after. Having been found guilty of murder and attempted murder, he was later moved to the infamous Broadmoor prison where he was finally diagnosed and treated for paranoid schizophrenia. He was in a high risk group for developing this illness, but tragically, psychiatrists during his former spell in prison had not previously been aware of anything wrong. Since schizophrenia typically manifests early in life, his madness may have been triggered by his continued use of cannabis. For reasons that are poorly understood, schizophrenia is also far more prevalent in black Caribbeans resident in the UK.
7 Leslie Gadsby
In Liverpool, England, former taxi driver Leslie Gadsby’s mental health began declining in 2004. The morning he was due to be admitted into hospital, he battered his father to death with a claw-hammer. He then also tried to lure his mother upstairs, and when she refused to go with him he severely injured her by repeatedly hitting her with a spanner. Ordinarily, he was said to have had a loving relationship with his parents. A friend said the attack was out of character.
Gadsby was charged with manslaughter and grievous bodily harm, and ordered to be held indefinitely at a medium security psychiatric facility. He was treated for paranoid schizophrenia. His mother stayed in contact, and eventually his condition 'resolved.' After a “longer than average” length of stay, Gadsby was released back into the community in 2007. Conditions were set that he was not allowed to stop taking his medication nor go near his former family home. His release was in accord with his mother’s wishes.
Gadsby’s mother, against her family’s better judgement, began visiting her son at his new apartment. This apartment was provided by a trust that ran supervised accommodation in the community. When Gadsby began to display early warning signs that his condition was worsening, these were apparently neither observed by the professionals in charge nor reported to them. It was later discovered that he had not been taking his anti-psychotic medication for some time. A report found his care plan to have been wanting, and the risks he posed to have been underestimated.
Gadsby fatally stabbed his mother five times in the neck, six years after killing his father. This time he was incarcerated for life in a maximum security hospital.
8 Marc Carter
Marc Carter stabbed fellow resident Gino Nelmes some seventeen times at a supervised care home in Bristol, England. Carter had been drinking cider prior to the unwitnessed attack. After the killing, he walked into a police station and handed himself in. The police then recovered the murder weapon from his room—a short-bladed samurai sword.
How Carter, who had suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and a personality disorder since his teens, had been able to freely abuse alcohol and stash lethal weapons in his room whilst living under ‘supervision’ is a perplexing question. A more troubling question is, how the hell was he able to get released back into the community in the first place? His mental health was such that he “thought people could read his mind, and though he appeared stable he could unexpectedly resort to lethal violence”.
Carter had a long, well-documented history of violence. Several previous charges of assault and wounding had already been successfully brought against him. At one point he had been given a nine-year jail sentence. He had even once assaulted a police officer. His most recent psychiatrist’s report at the time had found that he was “capable of extreme violence towards other people.” So why had authorities seen fit to release him from a secure hospital only days before he fatally stabbed Nelmes?
According to the judge who sentenced Carter to a minimum of twelve years at Broadmoor’s forensic psychiatric hospital, “No science is perfect and no professional service can cover all eventualities, particularly when dealing with such a complicated person as Mr Carter.” But though Carter’s mental problems may have been ‘complicated,’ the facts of his behaviour and personality were obvious to everyone long before he even met Gino Nelmes.
9 Phillip Simelane
Phillip Simelane was a schizophrenic who grew increasingly withdrawn and paranoid throughout his teenage years, and eventually began hiding in his bedroom. His mother despaired as her attempts to get him professional help repeatedly failed. The police had to be called to her property more than twenty times as her son became more violent. When Simelane held a knife to his mother’s stomach and threatened to kill her, the police were called again. This time he punched one of the intervening officers in the face. He was jailed, having already been charged with several other offences, and having already spent time in other facilities.
During his time in prison Simelane was labelled ‘did not attend,’ which means he refused to leave his cell to attend mental-health appointments. In such ‘did not attend’ cases, prisoners were automatically discharged after two weeks unless their cases escalated. A final prison assessment was made by a junior doctor who had never undertaken such an assessment before. This doctor was overseen by a manager who had previously only experienced one other such case.
Simelane was given the all clear, along with three days’ worth of anti-psychotic medication, and released from prison with nowhere to go and no proper referral. His mother did not allow him into her home again, dropping items he requested from of an upstairs window. Homeless for three months, Simelane began sleeping and sheltering on public buses during the day, using a stolen, out-of-date pass.
One morning, a schoolgirl sat on the bus seat in front of him. Perceiving her to be some kind of threat, Simelane stabbed her fatally in the chest before casually disembarking. The attack happened so quickly that fellow passengers did not realize what had happened until the girl gasped for breath. They tried to resuscitate her, but she died on the bus.
Police admitted that Simelane had accumulated a number of warning ‘markers’ on the police national computer. The markers had been placed on his file by professionals who had assessed him, but this profiling tool was ignored. He had in fact been seen by over a dozen specialists, but none had found his condition severe enough to warrant hospitalization. He was not even diagnosed correctly until after he had killed the schoolgirl.
10 Marie Moore
People all over the world were horrified back in 2009 when video footage from a gun range in Casselberry, Florida showed mentally ill mother Marie Moore shooting her own son in the back of the head. Standing directly behind him, she executed the twenty-two-year-old as he took his turn in a booth to fire at a target. The security footage is eerily silent. The responses of the traumatized man in the next booth add harrowing testimony to how completely unexpected and deeply shocking this incident was.
Audio tapes and brief letters found at Moore’s home made at least some sense of this apparently senseless killing. The mother believed she was sending her son to heaven and herself to hell. God had made her a “Queen” but she had failed, and so she believed she was a fallen angel. She also referred to herself as the Antichrist, and hoped her death would begin a millennium of world peace.
Moore had a known history of mental illness. She had been hospitalized in 2002 after attempting suicide. Her son had previously saved her from suicide, and she had previously attempted suicide at a gun range but had been thrown out. The ease with which she gained access to the gun range and the deadly weapons inside became an issue of contention for the boy’s bereaved father. Although there were laws in place to restrict gun ownership in cases of mental incompetence, they did not prevent persons from renting guns at firing ranges.
Copyright HTR Willaims October 2015