Acworth resident Lantasha Roberts said she bought a handgun because she is afraid of her 14-year-old adopted daughter, even though the teen is now residing at the Devereaux Georgia residential facility in Kennesaw.
“She has injured my family over the years,” Roberts wrote on Facebook on Dec. 19. “On Dec. 12, I was attacked by my daughter and injured.”
Instead of being arrested, the juvenile was taken to the area hospital, where Roberts got treatment for physical injuries and the teen was evaluated in the “psych ER,” according to Roberts.
The teen, whose name has been withheld, has been in therapy since the age of 4, Roberts said, and has been “in and out” of treatment centers.
The mother said hospital staff members spoke harshly to her when she hesitated to bring the teen back home.
Roberts said she has tried to get help from a variety of authorities, like the Department of Family and Children Services, only to come away disappointed.
“I went to the police, DFACS, Juvenile Justice and the office of mental health, begging for help for me and my family to be safe,” she said. “(They) all say there is nothing that can be done. I have tried to be proactive only to get the door slammed in my face over and over by the people who say they protect families.”
Roberts said she is genuinely afraid.
“I have purchased a gun because I’m so scared and need to protect my family and myself,” she said. “I believe that if she is released, she will kill me. She’s bigger than me. I’m afraid of her.”
Law enforcement weighs in
Pat Head, former Cobb County district attorney, said he has heard similar stories.
“Last night (on the news) I watched a guy who was saying it was easier to buy an AK-47 than it was to get mental health treatment for his son,” he said. “That’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong. But making it harder to buy an AK-47 doesn’t solve the issue.”
Instead of gun control, Head said, identifying and treating mental health issues are the keys to preventing bloodbaths.
“I can’t think of any law that we could pass that would have prevented the tragedy in Connecticut ,” he said. “It does appear that every one of the people involved in (mass shootings) has mental health issues. If we don’t do something about mental health, we’re not taking any steps that will prevent things like this from occurring.”
Head said researchers must discover a diagnostic tool to predict who is likely to become violent as a result of behavioral health issues.
“There has got to be a way for our mental health professionals to be able to identify people who have the propensity to commit these types of crimes,” he said.
Early warning system
There is a way, according to the Smyrna-based Cobb County Community Services Board, which treats about 14,000 patients a year for mental health, developmental disability and substance abuse.
“We’re working with law enforcement to identify people sooner to intervene sooner,” said rehab and recovery director Debbie Strotz.
She said the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has a Cobb County chapter, also helps police.
“NAMI does training with law enforcement so they know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, to try to work with them verbally to de-escalate,” Strotz said about calming down an agitated person to avert a crisis.
The National Council for Behavioral Health has a “mental health first-aid” kit, she said, with a prevention section.
“For example, teachers or clergy are educated to recognize early symptoms,” Strotz said. “(Council president) Linda Rosenberg talks about family and friends who know that something’s not right and how to intervene.”
Neighbors can also weigh in.
“Some communities in certain neighborhoods, they may have identified someone with a long-running mental illness,” said Tod Citron, the board’s executive director. “The main issue is when someone is confronted with a person who has mental illness, that they not stay isolated with that person, but reach out for help.”
Bryan Stephens, board director of intake access and outpatient services, urges people to call the board’s hot line as soon as they know something is wrong.
“A crisis number, even if you’re not in crisis, can refer you to resources to get help now,” he said.
The board can mobilize resources that “wrap around” a patient, providing relief from multiple providers.
“They can keep that person stable in their home when they are in distress, as opposed to being carted off to the emergency room or jail,” Citron said.
Sometimes the emergency room is the only appropriate destination.
WellStar Health System doesn’t treat minors for mental health issues, but older teens age 18 and 19 in the Cobb or Kennestone ERs can meet with “emergency assessors.”
“Their role is to support the physician in determining if the patient is a threat to themselves or others,” said Randy Cook, WellStar vice president of behavioral health and medicine service.
If there is a danger of violence, a doctor can give the patient a “1013 status,” Cook said, a legal designation.
“That means we are taking responsibility of the patient until they can be placed for treatment or until they are no longer a threat,” he said.
He or she can be immediately “admitted by WellStar on their behalf,” Cook said, meaning involuntarily, to a special unit at the Cobb hospital.
“A patient on a 1013 can be held for 48 hours,” he said.” Then if the physician chooses, the patient converts to a 1014, which is good for five business days. At that point, if further care is needed, it takes a court order to keep a patient longer.”