What Makes a Young Man Murder Innocent Children?

This morning my stomach is sick with sadness and worry. I am counting the moments until my own three kids burst through the door after spending the night with their grandparents. I am lucky.

Dozens of parents in Connecticut today will not see their babies laugh or cry ever again. Babies…5, 6, 7 year olds. Murdered in cold blood by a 20-year-old young man with a gun.

Arguments are flying about gun control, school security, and allowing God back in our schools. But, the real travesty, I think, is our country’s woefully inadequate support of the mentally ill. Gun laws or not, bullet proof glass or not, prayer or not, the sad fact is that no mentally sound person would commit such a heinous act.

And, none are more guilty of doing a terrible job with these patients than doctors just like me. Why? Because it is hard. Very hard. Mentally ill patients can be the most time-consuming, non-compliant, and under/uninsured of our society. So, they get left behind. Then, when they commit a horrific act, we talk for a second but in reality do nothing….till the next time.

First, we must be better at identifying mental illness EARLY. School psychologists, parents, teachers need to be better able to share concerns and information in the hopes of preventing illnesses from going underdiagnosed and undertreated.

Second, our 18-20 somethings are lost. In my practice, the numbers of college age kids that are depressed, anxious, suicidal, drug addicted, or  dropping out of school are staggering. Something is happening in this generation that we need to understand better. A good friend and social worker explained to me last night that “reality is hitting these kids in the face.” Some have no skills. Some have ambitions they can’t monetize. Some are in the wrong crowd. Many make bad decisions. Most don’t seek help and the ones that do don’t get enough. All of them were once the age of these innocent kids that were murdered yesterday.

Third, there is a difference between boys and girls. I may be criticized for this but it needs to be said. Doesn’t it seem that almost every senseless mass murder in a school is committed by a young man? Why? What are we doing to our sons? Or, what are we not doing? I am analyzing every step of my life with my son this morning. Is he going to resent me for always nagging him to put on pants? Am I babying him too much? If he doesn’t have a job should I support him or kick him out? Why, on the other hand, do girls turn their hurt inwards? They become promiscuous and anorexic and anxious but rarely do we read about them turning a gun on a room of school kids. What is it that girls have in their nature that boys don’t. Can we use these differences to learn about the psyche of a murderer?

Certainly, not every young adult I mention above is capable of such an act. But, take a lost 20-year-old young man with a undertreated mental illness, give him easy access to a gun and suddenly the tragedy is in our face.

In 2006, nearly $60 billion dollars were spent on mental health conditions. Over 10% of our population over age 6 is or has been on antidepressant. So, we are spending the money. We are prescribing the drugs but something is WRONG. The money is not going where it should. The drugs are not right or enough or being given to the right patients.

Until we (doctors, researchers, counselors, and psychologists) figure out that missing piece, there will be more mornings like today where we, as a nation, are just heart-sick.

Are you a 20-year-old struggling? Do you know someone who is? Are you a grieving parent? Do you have a thought about any  of the above?  Please share.


  1. Really Dr Meyer? I have been a patient of yours for a few years. I have to think that posting blog posts about a patient and his file is crossing a line. I am starting to really think about how private is my information. There are many rumors around that say you aren’t very closed lipped when it comes to your patients. Doesn’t this cross a moral and ethical line? I feel sorry for the 52 year old man in this post and for all of the people you’ve described in detail on your other posts. Every time I read your blog I feel disappointed in the choices you make on what to write and am reconsidering if you are the right doctor for me.

    • I’m pissed off just reading Anonymous’ comment. There are many bad/poor doctors out there, perhaps you SHOULD reconsider. Dr. Meyer would not compromise her patients personal info. Never!

  2. Dear Anonymous:

    I am sorry you feel this way. I am very very careful about the stories I use to illustrate what I feel to be important issues. If, ages, sexes, stories are mentioned in a post, they are always changed to protect the identity of the patient. I would never, ever post information that was identifying of any patient. Perhaps I should clarify that in my posts. Thank you for pointing out a very important issue.

  3. I have a few things to share. I agree with you, Christine, when you say that the young adults are the most at risk and what I would describe as the Lost Hope Generation. They may be the product of a broken home, they may have substance abuse or psychosocial issues, or, they may appear to be completely well adjusted. But with the decline in our nation’s economy, many are severely burdened by unemployment/ underemployment and escalating finance and insurmountable debt. These young folks simply can’t start their adult lives and progress forward as we were able to a generation or two ago! The high school-college-career-marriage-children path seems so far from the realm of possibilities to many of these young people. I also agree that the young males are much less able to handle these multiple stresses; girls are just better able to work through them and seek out solutions or at least an understanding confidante. I wish I knew what the solution is to helping them…your talking, hounding, “nagging” is an excellent start. We can never stop talking with our kids and just be there to hear what they have to say.
    God Bless the children and adults whose lives were taken, and pray for their loved ones.

  4. First, the information you provide is in no way compromising anyone’s medical history. In fact, it is very helpful for people to understand the challenges of treating patients and your blog overall highlights this in a way that is understandable and compassionate. Young men historically have a difficult transition in their early twenties. Modern society exacerbates this because what young men do best is not really valued by society. In earlier times, strength and physical prowess was needed for farm life, factory work and in combat. Young men’s abilities and interests were of value to the family as well. They fixed cars, ran manual lawn mowers and spent time with other men on those type of pursuits. Young men were active volunteers in local firehouses and civic groups. They followed their father’s footsteps and learned to be a man by being with other men. Today’s young men spend more time with frat brothers than real fathers and fathers are too busy with work to donate time to the local firehouse. How many men are home every evening by 5PM? When I was a kid (early 60′s) the work day ended at a certain time and family and civic life had time to flourish. I could go on with this but my point is that society does not place enough value on the nurturing of older boys. We do okay with the younger ones, we coach their teams, drive them to endless events but at a certain age parents disengage emotionally, though not financially. In the old days, parents were more inclined to do the opposite, by expecting their sons to earn a living but support them by being present. It is an interesting question that you pose and one worth considering in a thoughtful way.

    • So very true.

    • Lorraine,
      How very insightful. Unfortunately, as a girl, my father was never around. All of my role models were women: aunts and grandmothers. I only have a sister. I often wonder how a brother might have made out after growing up in our home. In our life now, my husband is an amazing and ever present father. We literally carve moments at a time in our crazy life to be with each of our three kids (two daughters and a son) on an individual basis. My sister and brother in law schedule “date nights” with each of their four girls routinely. But as you point out, those kids are LITTLE. We must must continue to reach out, grab and even force our young adult kids to stay engaged with us. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  5. You have echoed much of what I have felt/said to my family/friends in the last day. I have some friends who have said evil was in that school. Yes, it was, BUT I have to believe that he was mentally ill. I cannot comprehend any other way that this could have happened. And I also agree that there seems to be a of young adults of that age group that seem to be suffering. Mental illness is still a sigma in this country. I remember when I was a child and cancer was rarely discussed. Mental illness is stil in that realm. It saddens me. However, I have no answers as to what would make a difference. Many of these young adults refuse treatment or seeing a doctor at all. There is not much a parent can do with an 18 y/o (or even younge, really) to force them to see a doctor. Or make them get treatment. I hope an answer can be found. I have a feeling it will take awhile.

    • Dear Patient
      You are exactly right. When I was young, a member of our church got breast cancer. When people mentioned her or her illness, they referred to it only as “The Disease” No one ever uttered the words “Breast Cancer.” She had two young girls that grew up watching their mother fight and eventually lose her battle with “The Disease.” No help or healing comes from that. The Breast Cancer of the early eighties is the bipolar of today. We need to have the courage to say the words so that we can come together and embrace instead of shun the ones suffering. “Stigmatized” is proof positive that we are a society can do better than this. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Stigmatized says:

    When we see a tragedy like this occur it reminds us of how far we need to go. We must remember also how far we have come. When a family is forced to deal with a mentally ill member it is beyond difficult to manage. I am bi polar. It will show in the way I write this post. My communication skills are “different”. Many things about me are “different”. It has been a long journey for me living with this disease for the last twenty years. I was hospitalized once when I was diagnosed. I have remained stable and productive ever since. Somethings I learned the hard way. I learned not to be to open about my disease because there is a stigma to it. I lost a job two days after telling a co-worker about it when I was in my early twenties. I learned that I must always take my pill the same way a diabetic must always take insulin. I am responsible for managing this ,no one else knows whats going on. If I’m “up” too much or “down”. If I was diagnosed in the sixties I would not have ever had a normal life. The medicines that have been developed are expensive but amazing. They more than any amount of therapy are the biggest factor in my success. I have raised and put an adult daughter through grad school. I have three younger children who adore me, look up to me, and respect me. If I was not well controlled none of that would be possible. I had an extreme advantage though and that was that my parents had dealt with this before. They knew what to say to me as a teenager to make me understand the importance of taking my pill each night. They understood what to look for if I didn’t seem “right” .They knew what to say to stress that I stay away from drinking and drugs. They struggled, cried, and fought to give me a chance to learn how to live and thrive with this disease. Many ,many families out there get hit with this and have no idea where to go next. In some cases yes there are issues with the family as a whole. In some cases it can be the result of something that happened outside of the family. The difficulty in dealing with this can not be stressed enough. Families dealing with this really need more resources. The stigma and behaviors that occur because of mental illness often isolate not only the child but also the parents. We simply do not have the right resources available for family’s. I’ve lived it and it’s sub par at best depending on your doctor. I have read there aren’t many new medicines in the pipeline for treating things like bi-polar, etc. It is a shame because these drugs along with a good doctor and family support have the power to take an out of control monster and give them their life back.

    • Dear Stigmatized (but I wish you weren’t)
      I can’t begin to thank you enough for having the couraged to write this post. It has brought me the first glimmer of positivity today. Your story is proof positive that NO diagnosis (mental or otherwise) is unsalvagable. You have made so many good points. First, that the effort to help a mentally ill person needs to involve many: family, doctors, friends, and pharmaceuticals. Second, that mental illnesses need to be managed with the diligence we manage all diseases: taking medication dutifully and with the diligence any drug deserves. And lastly, that despite bipolar, you lead a full, productive and blessed life. It can be done. More people need to hear your story. Thank you again for sharing.

  7. Thank you, Dr, and also Stigmatized for sharing your story of hope and recovery. Young adults are truly at risk… Caught in between pediatric and adult care systems, not to mention diagnostic frameworks. Add to that everything already mentioned, and the fact that age of onset for many serious mh problems is in that window.

    I think we need to make sure to remember that medicine cannot be the sum total of our care strategy. Meds, even the “good” ones, are not effective for or tolerable to everyone. The problems are complex, and so the strategies must be, and include social, policy and cultural changes, in addition to much needed individual attention.

  8. You should not be discussing patients, this has turned me away from you and your practice. Shame, I heard great things about your practice from friends but I would not want to be blogged about.

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