What little information has been reported on gunman Jared Loughner paints a picture of a young man with schizophrenia. I don't know if Loughner had received any clinical diagnosis, but various reports describe his inappropriate and threatening behavior in school; his distrust of government and belief in conspiracy theories; and sudden changes in his personality over the last year. I'm no psychiatrist, but I think all of these things would be consistent with schizophrenia.
I don't know if Loughner had been diagnosed with or treated for any mental illnesses, but his former classmates and professors have told reporters that they had concerns about him - serious enough concerns that his college suspended him and send a letter to his parents stating that Loughner could return to classes only if he'd first "obtain a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others" (reported here and elsewhere).
What social supports are in place for mentally ill adults? What supports should be available? Schizophrenia often does not manifest until adulthood, so individuals with schizophrenia may not have the obvious path to services that, say, a child with autism going through the public school system would have. How can we help families recognize the signs of psychosis in their grown children so they can steer them toward appropriate treatment?
Obviously I don't have enough information or expertise to make recommendations for the Loughner family, but this tragic incident should remind us all to look out for our loved ones. If you notice odd changes in someone's personality or suspect psychosis, get involved, even if the family member in question accuses you of being part of the conspiracy.
Here is a list of symptoms of psychosis:
- Abnormal displays of emotion
- Depression and sometimes suicidal thoughts
- Disorganized thought and speech
- Extreme excitement (mania)
- False beliefs (delusions)
- Loss of touch with reality
- Mistaken perceptions (illusions)
- Seeing, hearing, feeling, or perceiving things that are not there (hallucinations)
- Unfounded fear/suspicion