Mental Illness Enters the White House

September 30, 2014

There is much concern about any breach at the White House: the most recent intruder could have been shot and possibly killed during his run. Why wasn’t he?

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To paraphrase Antony in Shakespeare’s Caesar, I write to bury our Secret Service, not to praise it. But, as Antony goes on to praise Caesar, let me go on to praise our Secret Service, as least as far as the mentally ill go. Unquestionably, there is much deserved concern for any breach at the White House. Now, as more information is emerging, the most recent breach is known to have reached the interior.

Presidents have been assassinated. I knew how important security was when I worked in a prison. It seems like the recent intruder in Washington could have been shot and possibly killed during his run, which so often happens in police encounters (including one of my patients). Why wasn’t he? Given that they knew the President was gone, did the Secret Service quickly conclude that he was mentally ill?

The intruder was quoted as saying that he wanted to talk to the President about the atmosphere failing (as I might like to), sort of like the kernel of truth in paranoia. His ex-wife has said that he suffered from PTSD after at least 2 tours in Iraq, where he may have been severely traumatized by an event involving children.

We know that mental health care has been inadequate for soldiers like him. Certainly, as the air control attack in Chicago also indicates, we need better security in this time of terrorism. At the same time, we also need better treatment for the mentally ill.

Further reading:

Shear MD, Schmidt MD. White House intruder’s past raises concern. New York Times. September 22, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/23/us/white-house-intruder-was-arrested-in-july-with-trove-of-weapons.html. Accessed September 30, 2014.

Hicks J. Arson at Chicago air traffic center raises questions about background checks. Washington Post. September 29, 2014. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/federal-eye/wp/2014/09/29/arson-at-chicago-air-traffic-center-raises-questions-about-background-checks. Accessed September 30, 2014.