‘Mentally ill’ Navy Yard shooter sought treatment in Virginia

Posted at 1:00 PM, Sep 18, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-18 14:22:58-04

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) - Friends of the alleged Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis said that on multiple occasions he sought treatment in Northern Virginia for mental illness, according to Associated Press reports.

Following the shooting, national scrutiny of the mental health system in America has been revived and the conversation now turns, in part, towards Virginia.

"I think it's that we've had real trouble in eliminating the stigma of coming to treatment," said clinical psychologist Dr. Brian Meyer, with the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond. Dr. Myer said society views mental illness as a weakness, but added that mental issues are more common than many realize.

According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four adults in America suffer from some form of mental illness in a given year, which equates to more than 50 million people.

Despite its commonality, the debate around mental illness receives the most attention when acts of violence bring the mental health system to the forefront, mental health advocates said.

The warning signs of Alexis' mental state were evident prior to the shooting.  Police records indicate that last month Alexis called police in Rhode Island and told them he was hearing voices and that someone was stalking him.

The vast majority of people who suffer from mental issues do not commit violent acts, but getting help is still important. Myer said the signs of mental illness vary significantly from illness to illness, and some symptoms may not appear serious at first.

"It's really when people are off their stride for three weeks or month, then we want to be looking at and saying, 'Wait, maybe something is going on here that we want to take a look at," Myer said.

Some mental health professionals said the system needs more efficient diagnosis procedures.  The American Psychiatric Association recently released an updated manual on diagnosis processes and treatment options.

However, diagnosis only happens if someone showing signs of mental illness seeks help, experts said.

"We need to get out the message that [mental health] problems are somewhat normal," said Myer.