Could U.S. Mental Health System have Prevented Elliot Rodger's Murderous Rampage?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Expanded editorial originally distributed by PRWeb, May 29, 2014

Lexington, Kentucky

Dr. Tim Houchin, M.D. of 360 Mental Health Services reports that although Elliot Rodger’s murderous rampage demonstrates the U.S. mental health system has deeply seated flaws it is possible that no amount of psychotherapy or medication management would have given him what he needed most – a conscience.

Elliot Rodger murdered six innocent people and maimed approximately a dozen others before killing himself, according to virtually every major news outlet. “Although one is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in America, when that individual, caught in the act, takes his own life he gives up his right to a jury trial,” said forensic psychiatrist Dr. Tim Houchin, M.D. Further evidence that Rodger was in fact the murderer is found in this CNN video and accompanying article, which reveals that Rodger planned his attack over a period of 3 years, beginning in 2011 when he was just 19 years old.


According to this article in Forbes, Rodger posted over a dozen videos on YouTube, each of which has now been taken down. In the article, Forbes writer Kashmir Hill described the videos as being full of “anger, self-loathing and self-pity.” Ms. Hill even reported that one viewer of Rodger’s YouTube videos, just days before the murders, commented on Reddit, “I bet we find out this guy is a serial killer.”

As one of a select number of physicians specializing in both child and adolescent psychiatry as well as forensic psychiatry Dr. Houchin has evaluated dozens of murderers ranging in ages from teens to the elderly. When asked about Rodger’s YouTube videos Dr. Houchin stated, “Mr. Rodger published multiple disturbing [YouTube] videos in addition to his 140 page ‘manifesto’. These were the actions of a vengeful, emotionally disturbed young man.”

Rodger was clearly disturbed. But what exactly was his psychiatric diagnosis, did it play a significant role in the murders and, perhaps most importantly was it a preventable tragedy? This CNN article asserts that court documents from his parents’ divorce specify Rodger was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at the age of 7. Another CNN article cited Simon Astaire, a Rodger family friend, as claiming Elliot Rodger met with a psychotherapist “pretty much every day in high school.” The same article reported that Mr. Rodger was even seeing two different therapists immediately prior to his murderous rampage.

If the CNN articles are accurate, Rodger had access to tremendous numbers of psychotherapy sessions; something Dr. Houchin indicated is typically only available to privileged individuals due to the expense of such therapy. When asked if Rodger’s diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome may have played a role in the killings, Dr. Houchin responded, “Since I have not assessed Mr. Rodger I cannot say whether his purported diagnosis of Asperger’s is accurate. Having said this, if you’re starting with the wrong diagnosis you’re going down the wrong path.”

Speaking of “paths” there is at least one explanation few have entertained in the media to date – that of “psychopath.” What if Rodger, Asperger’s diagnosis aside, was also an angry psychopath – a young man without a conscience who was furious at the world for not granting his every desire? After all, much of his posted video content consists of him calling young women “sluts” and admonishing them for refusing to have sex with him.

“A number of mass murderers have met the diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder,” said Dr. Houchin. "Some psychiatrists have utilized the term 'psychopath,' which is not an officially recognized diagnosis, to describe an extreme form of antisocial personality disorder. However, before any  diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder could be made there would need to be a long, established history of a lack of feeling empathy or guilt and, ideally, a history of extensive psychological testing.”

Although many questions remain, one is especially perplexing. With Rodger posting such disturbing videos on YouTube to the point that even laypersons were commenting he might be a serial killer, why were both of his therapists seemingly oblivious to the fact that Rodger had been planning a mass murder for some 3 years? “This question,” said Dr. Houchin, “is complex and much more information will need to come to light before condemning the decisions of Rodger’s therapists."

Dr. Houchin addressed the issue of whether psychopaths can be rehabilitated by stating, “I believe that a relatively small number of individuals are so self-absorbed and, frankly, depraved that no amount of psychotherapy or medications will prevent them from acting on their violent fantasies. That being said, if there is evidence one of these individuals is seeking to harm someone then detaining that person, either in jail or in a hospital, is sometimes the only way to keep society safe.”

Dr. Houchin was clearly passionate about getting to the bottom of this tragedy. “Many key questions remain,” he stated. He asked, “Was the diagnosis of Asperger’s correct? Were other diagnoses present that were missed? Were the types of psychotherapies provided appropriate? Was he taking any prescribed medications? Was he actually evaluated by a psychiatric physician?”