by Drew Griffin, CNN
Ever since the Virginia Tech shootings, we've heard a lot about mental illness, and specifically, the term imminent danger. A judge ruled that the Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho posed an imminent danger to himself, but he went back to campus.
We wanted to know why, and what might now be done to change the laws.
Clearly Seung Hui Cho was dangerous. And according to some, it was also easy to see Cho was mentally disturbed.
"The experts seem to think that yes he had schizophrenia." Mary Zdanowicz is executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. Virginia is one of only a handful of states that sets the bar high for involuntarily forcing someone into treatment. Only people who are deemed an 'imminent danger to themselves or others' can be forced to get help.
It was December of 2005, when Cho first came in contact with this system, after a friend told police he might be suicidal. Cho was ordered to temporary detention. The next day, a judge ruled him "mentally ill", "an imminent danger to himself", facing involuntary commitment and a record, Cho agreed to be taken to a mental health facility for further evaluation.
That is where the case ends. There is no record of any follow up treatments.
"You don't just let them walk out the door." But Zdanowicz says that's exactly what the state of Virginia did. "When do we force someone against their will and say its in society's interest to step in."
Virginia has been looking at how best to handle the potentially dangerous mentally ill for the past the past 6 months, long before the massacre at Virginia tech.
Today Virginia's leading mental health experts met in Charlottesville to continue to discuss if Virginia should change its law and make it easier to force the mentally ill into treatment. In Cho's case, the decisions were left up to him. We'll never know what may - or may not - have happened if he had been forced into treatment.
"No it doesn't appear he had any awareness he had a mental illness. He believed the delusions he believed that he had a mission." In essence, Virginia allows people who can't think right, to think for themselves.
"So why would he go to a psychiatrist for an evaluation. That's the problem with these illnesses, it affects a person's ability to even recognize there is something wrong with them." Mike Allen is an advocate for the mentally ill. He fears backlash and knee jerk reactions to the Virginia Tech massacre.
"Would we then go through the records of every Virginian who has ever been to the doctor concerned about anxiety and depression, and lock them up? It's simply inconsistent with the American way."
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