Posted on May 10, 2011

Four Months Later: The Legacy of the Tucson Shooting

Claire Martin, Time, May 9, 2011


But the close-knit city has become quietly sensitive to the underlying issue of the Jan. 8 shooting–the intersection of mental health and violence–and whether anything could have been done to prevent it. The exact details of Loughner’s mental health are still unknown, and it wasn’t until April 21, when court documents were filed showing that Loughner received treatment at Tucson’s Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital at age 17, that any information about his treatment history emerged. Unlike the aftermath of similar acts of violence in recent years–notably the shooting on the Virginia Tech campus–there’s been relatively little finger-pointing.

Instead, local behavioral-health agencies have been careful to stress that most people with mental illness are nonviolent and that early treatment is key. They’ve also continued the public discourse on mental health and violence, including a symposium at the University of Arizona last week that was carefully titled, “A Delicate Balance: Creating a Better Post-January 8 System to Protect the Public and Help Persons with Serious Mental Illness.” (See “The Troubled Life of Jared Loughner.”)

The message seems to be getting out. Some Tucson behavioral-health programs are reporting a spike in the use of their services and a boost in private donations since Jan. 8. Epicenter, a program created last year by the University of Arizona (UA) Department of Psychiatry to identify and treat individuals exhibiting early signs of psychosis, has seen a drastic increase in referrals. “We were getting one referral a week, and since the shooting it’s closer to one a day,” UA assistant professor of psychiatry Nicholas Breitborde tells TIME. The Southern Arizona chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) had record participation at its annual fundraising walk in March and pulled in $146,000–40% more than last year’s figure.