Adam Lanza: Possible mental health profile of a mass killer

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In the aftermath of the tragic mass killing at the Sandy Hook elementary by shooter Adam Lanza, forums on social media are frantically pointing fingers and claiming for action. Understanding what happened, what led to this shooting, could help find proper solutions to prevent it from happening again.

Besides requesting for more gun regulations, there is a common call for better violence prevention and intervention (mental health) services. Another popular claim is for educational reform towards therapeutic environments that support “awkward children”, that teach conflict resolution and that prevent bullying while helping children mature emotionally through impulse control and tolerance to frustration.

And yet another urgent call is for ways of making parents understand the urge to seek mental health services for their children instead of just sheltering them when emotionally distressed.

It seems that if we could understand what kind of disorder Adam Lanza had or what kind of mother Nancy Lanza was, our need to know who or what to blame could be satisfied but only so that we could go on living the same life without reflecting on our social responsibility. That’s a mistake we must avoid.

Adam Lanza shooter

Adam Lanza as a child.  (Courtesy of ABC)

Adam Lanza: A psychological profile

Clarity on the mental status that led Adam Lanza to kill will take time as friends and doctors aid law enforcement with their investigation. For now, all we have are a few testimonies from family, neighbors,  former classmates, and friends.

Adam Lanza is described as a “genius” in computers, who played graphically violent video games.

Adam Lanza grew up as a shy, isolated, awkward kid with a flat affect, which led to thinking at some point that he suffered from Asperger’s Disorder or a personality disorder.

His mother, Nancy Lanza, told a drinking buddy a week before the tragedy that Adam was burning himself with a lighter. Another friend said Adam couldn’t really feel pain.

Adam Lanza’s cold-blooded killing of his mother, 20 children and 6 school staff members, evidenced his lack of empathy.

So we have so far, flat affect, difficulty relating to pain, lack of empathy, socially isolated and engaged in violent video games.

Nancy Lanza mother of Adam Lanza

Nancy Lanza was the mother of Adam Lanza.

Nancy Lanza: A psychological profile

Nancy Lanza was shot four times in the head at her own home by her own son, before he killed other 26 people. She was a stay-at-home mom who worried for, and was probably overinvolved in her child’s life. After having some kind of dispute with the local school district, Nancy decided to homeschool Adam.

Nancy was divorced in 2009 (Adam Lanza was 17 at the time), and lived with her son on a comfortable income provided by the father, Peter, who was seemingly not involved in Adam’s life since 2010. Nancy Lanza had court authority to make all decisions regarding his rearing.

“She was a wonderful, beautiful, elegant woman who loved life,” Russ Hanoman, a close friend said, “and most importantly she loved her son, Adam.”

Nancy Lanza has been described by friends as a “gun enthusiast,” but a responsible gun owner. It seems she personally taught her sons to shoot and challenged them to excel at the shooting range. She had “something of a survivalist mentality,” according to a CBS report.

It’s not clear if the weapons were easily accessible to Adam or if he took them by force. All guns found in the school were registered under Nancy Lanza’s name.

The role of video games

Lt. Cl. David Grossman, states on his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, that, “Killing requires training because there is a built-in aversion to killing one’s own kind.”

Video games are simulators similar to those the military forces use for training and brain washing.

Mitchell Scott Johnson and Andrew Douglas Golden who on March 24, 1998 massacred five people and injured another ten in an Arkansas’ school, rehearsed the killing with video games.

Norway mass-killer Anders Behring Breivik confessed using the video game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, to train for the crime that left 77 dead in the summer of 2011.

Video games could increase aggressive thoughts, feelings and behavior, especially in susceptible individuals.

Using functional MRI, Vincent Matthews and colleagues at Indiana University studied 28 students with no video game experience. Those who played a violent video game for a week showed less activity in brain areas that are responsible for emotions, attention and inhibition of impulses.

“Behavioral studies have shown an increase in aggressive behavior after violent video games,” Matthews told Time magazine. “We’re showing that there are changes in brain function that are likely related to that behavior.”

Adam Lanza

This undated photo circulated by law enforcement and provided by NBC News, shows Adam Lanza. Authorities say Lanza killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life, on Friday. (AP Photo/NBC News)

Possible diagnosis for Adam Lanza

The media has speculated in the last few days about a possible mental diagnosis for mass killer Adam Lanza. It is indeed very difficult and risky for anyone to venture a solid diagnosis without knowing the person or close relatives, and without having details or medical and personal background. A diagnosis will probably be better established when police and involved medical health practitioners complete their investigation. Until then, everything belongs in the speculation department.

Asperger’s disorder – Classified within the autistic spectrum. Individuals suffering from the disorder typically have difficulty with social interaction, display repetitive and restrictive behaviors, with no difficulty with verbal communication (as children diagnosed with autism do). Life in community is problematic, especially since they have difficulty reading social cues and might appear little empathetic. However, there is no association whatsoever between Asperger’s and violence; Asperger’s would not explain the killing.

Personality Disorder (PD) – A group of psychiatric diagnoses characterized by compromised functioning and behaviors that deviate from the norm.

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder: The DSM describes a person with ASPD as having “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” Jails are full of people with this diagnosis – aggressive, remorseless, deceitful and incapable of empathy.
  • Adam Lanza’s self-inflicted pain points towards a Schizoid Personality Disorder. Individuals diagnosed with this disorder avoid social intimacy and have little or no friends.
  • But most likely, Adam could have been a case classified as a disorder “Not Otherwise Specified (NOS),” applied to cases that don’t fit other categories.

Was Adam Lanza on medication?

Was Adam Lanza under psychiatric care? His aunt Marsha said Nancy Lanza would have sought mental help if she thought he needed it.

The possibility that Adam Lanza could have been medicated or in withdrawal from meds has been tossed around.

Even though there are no specific medications approved by the FDA to treat PD, antidepressants are often used. Antidepressants, however, have been associated with violent behavior with reports of 66 school shootings/incidents involving a type of antidepressant drug (SSRIs).

But blaming medications, mental health illness, the guns or the mom skips the point. A root cause analysis is due.

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