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Breaking Point

Every year about 1,000 homicides are committed by people who are mentally ill and not in treatment. Many of these cases have made national headlines; in one case last year, a schizophrenic man killed a young woman by pushing her in front of a New York City subway.

Often, the families of those with psychiatric problems must decide whether to have their children forcibly hospitalized. 48 Hours looks at this dilemma, focusing on several particularly difficult cases.

  • Temporary Sanity: Correspondent Susan Spencer reports on Dan Ellis, an award-winning designer who has bipolar disorder. The 40-year-old Des Moines, Iowa, man has had difficulty taking his medication. Once, he tried to drown a 3-year-old. Then two years ago, he killed retired schoolteacher Harold Holstein when he rammed his truck into the back of Holstein's car.

    The judge in Holstein case ruled that Ellis was not guilty by reason of temporary insanity; Ellis was sent to a state institution. After three months, Ellis wanted to be released, but the Holstein family was afraid he will hurt someone else. What does the judge decide?

  • Correspondent Troy Roberts reports on the struggles of the Travis family. Richard Travis, 24, of Wilmington, N.C., and his twin brother, Robert, are both schizophrenic. While Robert Travis takes medication and has his illness under control, Richard Travis has been off his medication and holed up in his apartment for a month. Their parents, Vicki and Tershel Travis, worry that without help, Richard will hurt himself or someone else.

    The family decides to try to have Richard Travis committed to a mental hospital. Such involuntary commitments are humane, according to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist who is leading a national effort to simplify this process. But the mental health community is divided on the issue. Dr. Dan Fisher, a practicing psychiatrist, has suffered from schizophrenia and believes no one should be committed unless they pose an immediate danger.

  • When families, hospitals and the mental health community cannot deal with the mentally ill, police departments must often pick up the slack. Roberts reports on the Houston Police Department, which after several incidents leading to the deaths of mentally ill people, has started a new training program for its officers to help them handle these situations.

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