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The Possible Role Of Mental Illness in The Newtown Tragedy

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) - Americans are still struggling with what motivated Adam Lanza to commit such an unspeakable horror.

Investigators are only hinting at a motive so far, of personality disorder, mental illness, or autism.  But CBS 11 News' Dr. Sylvia Gearing, a clinical psychologist, believes it is a particular kind of mental illness called atypical depression.

"They're kind of angry," she says of suspected mass murder suspects, "sullen kids that you just don't notice and they're just on the sidelines, then all of a sudden they explode."

Dr. Gearing is a recent graduate of a nationally-recognized threat assessment academy.  Her research on profiles of mass murder suspects suggests a specific profile of cynical young people with trust issues.

"They show a decided lack of empathy, they don't tolerate other people well," she says adding, "There's a lot of grandiosity, a lot of paranoia, basically they're searching to be famous."

Investigators in Connecticut have described Lanza as suffering from a personality disorder.  There was no note or political manifesto.  They also say he has no criminal history, and Gearing says that is not surprising.

"No, these are almost invariably the first crime they've ever committed.   They do not come to the attention of mental health authorities."

Meanwhile a Fort Worth pediatrician warns against loose talk about autism.  "Mental illness and autism are two different things," says Dr. Joyce Elizabeth Mauck, who is disappointed that autism has been dragged into the discussion.

She's the CEO and medical director of Fort worth's Child Studies Center and says autistic kids tend to be younger, and any aggressive outbursts more spontaneous from frustration of being unable to communicate with others.

"Because of that some of those children do have aggression and sometimes use aggressive tendencies to overcome their lack of communication, but the type of carefully-planned, thought out, ugly type of event that happened in Connecticut on Friday is very atypical in a child with autism."

She cautions, "Things like what happened there are senseless tragedies and it's very unlikely that a real cause that makes sense to normal people is ever going to be found.   the thing I worry about is trying to blame developmental disabilities on a senseless, violent act.  And the two are not correlated."

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