A well-known psychiatrist believes most of the mass murders in the U.S. could be prevented if society would properly treat serious mental illness, like schizophrenia, a disease of the brain that Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis showed signs of. Dr. E. Fuller Torrey directly links this societal failure to the rash of mass shootings the U.S. has been experiencing. Torrey will be part of Steve Kroft's report on the state of mental health care for the 46th season premiere of 60 Minutes, Sun. Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
There have been more than 20 mass shooting in the U.S. over the past seven years, including those in Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., and at Virginia Tech, three instances where mental illness was an underlying cause. Dr. Torrey says the U.S. has fallen down on the job of treating society's mentally ill and links this failure to the mass shootings. "They're directly related. About half of these mass killings are being done by people with severe mental illness, mostly schizophrenia," he tells Kroft. "If they were being treated, [the mass shootings perpetrated by mentally ill] would have been preventable."
The problem began when mental hospitals where most of the mentally ill were cruelly warehoused were shuttered. Inmates were supposed to get treatment in residential centers and receive supervision. But programs were never funded adequately and there aren't nearly enough. "On any given day now, half of the people with schizophrenia and other severe mental illnesses are not being treated," says Dr. Torrey. Many of them wind up homeless and eventually find themselves in jails or prisons, says Torrey.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, in charge of Chicago's Cook County Jail, is all too familiar with the problem. "I've got probably 2,500, 2,800 people with mental illness in my jail today and you look at their backgrounds, they've been in here 50, 60, 100 - we have some people who have been in here 400 times," he tells Kroft. He says they are incarcerated for mostly minor offenses such as shoplifting. "There is no person that could argue otherwise that the jails have become the new insane asylums. That's what we are."
On Kroft's visit to Cook County Jail, the facility took in 15 severely, mentally ill persons just in one morning.
Says Torrey, "We have a grand experiment: What happens when you don't treat people? You're going to have to accept 10 to 15 percent of the homicides being killed by untreated, mentally ill people...accept Tucson and Aurora," he says. "These are the consequences."