Many of the recent questions I have been receiving are about the horrific event in Las Vegas last week. In the media the conversation moves immediately to gun control (mostly) and maybe mental health (but less so). This is unfortunate because Mental Health is a critical issue for our society, but it always seems to take a back seat from a political and media standpoint.
I believe we will learn this man who committed such a heinous act did not "snap" - as many like to say. In fact, we will likely find he was speaking or displaying bizarre behavior for weeks or months leading up to this horrific event. To those who had not interacted with him prior to the event - it does look like he snapped. However, there is usually a progression of bizarre behavior (or speech) before someone takes violent actions. Strangers will understandably distance themselves from someone acting and or making violent, delusional, or paranoid comments. Family members, co-workers, and even companies become very uncomfortable and often do not know what to do with the person.
I have personally experienced (over a period of months) the progression of someone moving from depression to psychosis and ultimately to a violent act. It was extremely fortunate no one was badly injured, and the person went on to receive excellent mental health services.
While the police can't lock someone up who has yet to commit a violent act, I still recommend calling the authorities if you hear someone making any references to violence. Calling authorities can alert family members to more closely monitor the person. In the case of someone with no family nearby, we can at least begin to alert others in the immediate community. This can include community health workers or homeless shelters, since many in the homeless population suffer from untreated mental health conditions.
While I don't expect the average person to approach people speaking in bizarre or violent ways, I have done so more than once. I only do this to hopefully prevent a person from hurting others and/or themselves. I first listen to what will probably make no sense, but it gives me an idea of who to alert. At one of my companies (20 years ago) we had a great employee who was experiencing a severe mental health condition. His behavior was completely different than the person we knew. We immediately alerted his wife and ensured he got excellent medical help beginning at a nearby emergency room. About 10 years ago in downtown Chicago I was confronted by an angry homeless man. I went to a nearby homeless shelter and they came back with me to engage with the young man. Ultimately, they got him to a nearby mental health services organization.
While 99.99% of people suffering from mental health conditions never become violent, I hope someday people become less afraid to take an action when they see extremely bizarre behavior or hear someone speaking violently. In these situations I always suggest engaging professionals right away. Don't play the role of the police or mental health professional.
Sadly, we are all surrounded each day by many suffering from non-violent - but still serious mental health conditions. Many of the people we encounter each day feel extremely anxious, lonely, and often full of despair. Just a simple "hello" or a "how are you doing today" can go a long way.