Warning Signs of Mental Illness

News reports say that law enforcement sources have reported that Loughner's parents knew their son was becoming increasingly troubled but were "completely surprised by the shooting." Teachers and classmates at Pima Community College were aware of Jared Loughner's unstable behavior. In a seven month span last year, police were called five times because of Loughner's behavior on campus. Then on September 29, campus police found an Internet video Loughner made in which he calls the college unconstitutional. He was suspended and told to get a mental health evaluation.

See an excerpt from Jared's YouTube video.


In a search of his home, officials took away the contents of his computer and a safe, including an envelope with the words "I planned ahead," "my assassination" and "Giffords." Jared Loughner posted anti-government messages and several YouTube videos online, describing a new U.S. currency and complaints about the literacy rates of those in Giffords' congressional district. Another video reportedly shows Loughner dressed in garbage bags and wearing a mask as he burns the American flag.

Dr. Phil is joined by legal analyst Lisa Bloom, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt and forensic psychologist Dr. Joel Dvoskin.

"Clint, you said in every mass murder situation that you've been involved in " and tragically, that's been a lot " that there are always warning signs and clues that lead up to it," Dr. Phil says.

"Yeah, there are, Dr. Phil," Clint says. "I've never yet seen a violence in a workplace scenario that you've covered over the years, or a mass murder scenario, where we don't have these dots, these pieces of a puzzle, these red flags that are there, that people either don't know what to look for, or they ignore them or they don't put them together."

"We always have 20/20 hindsight, and I wonder if warning signs is really the right terminology, because I don't know of a single set of signs or clues that predict which troubled person is going to get violent. Do we have that ability in psychology?" Dr. Phil asks Dr. Dvoskin.

"I agree with you completely what you said earlier, that warning signs are warning signs of troubled people who need help, and we should get people help because they need help," he says. "The number of people who have anger, and abuse substances, and who feel disenfranchised and alone in the world, unfortunately, there's a lot of people like that, and most of them are never going to do something like this " the number is infinitesimal. But they need help. This was clearly a person who was telling the world that he needed help and that he was troubled, and he should've gotten help for that reason, whether we knew he was going to commit this atrocity or not."

"The worst thing that could happen in the aftermath of this is for people to get the wrong idea or discriminate against mentally ill, because most people with mental illness, whatever the disorder, are nonviolent and are doing the best they can in life to improve, and get along and do better," Dr. Phil says. "Lisa, you say that we probably will have an insanity defense here. How likely is that to be successful?"

"Very unlikely," Lisa says. "The insanity defense is something that's generally offered in the case where there is mental illness, but it's a very high threshold to meet. Essentially, Jared Loughner would have to show that he was incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions, he just could not conform his conduct to the law. But the fact that there was so much planning, that he went and bought the gun, he bought the extended magazine clip, he said goodbye to his friends on MySpace, shows a level of planning that he knew what he was doing, so that's why I think the insanity defense would not prevail."

Lynda was a college classmate of Loughner. She told many people that she was scared of him.

"When we first heard about the shootings, I was horrified," Lynda says. "I said to my husband, ‘I won't be at all surprised if Jared is the person who has done this.' We were in a math class together at Pima College." Lynda gives a tour of the Pima campus. "This is the classroom where I had the math class with Jared, where he would have the outbursts that were irrational. Jared's behavior in the class was very peculiar. He would laugh at inappropriate times. He would sit with that frightening smile on his face. His behavior was never appropriate to what was happening in the classroom. The very first day, Jared spoke out and said, ‘This is a scam. How do you get away with teaching fraudulent material?' The teacher asked Jared to leave the room. Jared would not leave. I started to become frightened. When Jared was in the classroom, I felt like I was on eggshells. I avoided eye contact with him. I didn't speak up in class when he was there. I didn't want to attract his attention. I sent an e-mail to my family and said that I hoped that they would remove him before he came into class with a weapon. In this room, I sat by the door. I had my purse on the desk. I had my phone on the desk, so that if I needed to leave the room quickly, I could."

Lynda mentioned Jared in some of her e-mails to friends and family members. Dr. Phil reads excerpts from a few of them:

June 1: "Hopefully he will be out of class very soon and not come back with an automatic weapon."

June 10: "Class isn't dull as we have a seriously disturbed student in the class, and they are trying to figure out how to get rid of him."

June 14: "He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, ‘Yeah, he was in my math class, and he was really weird.' I sit by the door with my purse handy. If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast."

Clint says, "You look at the number of people who had a piece of this: His college, fellow students knew, the administration knew, the counselor at the college knew, the university police department knew, the local sheriff's office knew, the military wouldn't take him in " I mean, we're desperate to get people to stand up for this country with guns overseas, and the military doesn't want to put a gun in this guy's hand. With all of these pieces out there, with practitioners in mental health and other areas, there was still no common table, Dr. Phil, where these puzzle pieces could be put together to give us this terrible face of this mass murderer."

Lisa adds, "The disturbing thing is he was found to be too dangerous to go to community college, too dangerous to go to a pilates class, too dangerous to be in the military, and yet, we allow him to legally obtain a semi-automatic weapon with an extended clip."

Dr. Phil notes that as obvious as it may seem now that this young man was troubled, there is no way to get that information out to the people who need to be aware, such as stores who sell guns and ammunition. "How do we get that information to where it's usable?"

Dr. Dvoskin says, "Currently, the law says if you've been involuntarily committed, that you're ineligible to purchase [weapons]. In this case, Arizona is easier than other states to get people treatment, even if they don't want it. So, under Arizona law, he could've been evaluated against his will."

Dr. Phil says, "This is a slippery slope. If we do start accumulating this information in one place, that starts sounding scarily like the FBI having a file on everybody."

"That's kind of Big Brother-ish, and we don't want that to happen," Clint says.

"That gives me a creepy feeling, but when you look at this after the fact, you wonder: the guy had seven contacts with the campus police, he can't go to class, he can't take pilates, he can't get in the military but yet, we'll sell him an automatic weapon," Dr. Phil says.

"The United States regularly has mass shootings, as you say, two or three times a year, and unfortunately, I think we're going to continue to have them," Lisa says. "This is a very rare occurrence in Western Europe, Japan, East China. Why? Because they don't allow anyone to get their hands on semi-automatic weapons, and in fact, we wouldn't have allowed Jared Loughner to buy the clip that he bought between 1994 and 2004. We had an automatic weapons ban then. He couldn't have bought this clip. That was lifted in 2004. Now he could buy a clip with 33 bullets in it, so he can spray a crowd of people with 33 bullets in just a couple of seconds. When was he stopped? When was he jumped by bystanders? When he stopped to reload. If he had to stop to reload sooner, lives would be saved. We have to change our laws to say, ‘No, you're not allowed to get a semi-automatic weapon with an extended clip.'"

Clint says the challenge in America is that there are 308 million people and 270 million guns already out there. "If we said today, ‘None of us can buy a gun anymore,' it would be 500 years before a gun rusted out there, and people will get their hands on guns," he says. He says the answer lies in the mental health community; identify the person at risk and deal with them before they get to the point Jared did.

It may be very difficult for anyone to approach a troubled person and talk to them about seeking help. Dr. Dvoskin recommends using the word "stressed" as opposed to angry or troubled.

Dr. Phil explains a few key points in how to talk to someone who you think may be unstable and needs help:

  • DON'T say you think they're psychotic, schizophrenic or mentally ill.
  • DO say, "You seem to be under a lot of stress and demand." Ask if you can help in some way.
  • DON'T say, "You need help."
  • DO say, "You deserve help."