SPECIAL NOTE: From Dr. Amen About Newtown Tragedy

Our deepest condolences go out to the victims’ families who experienced the inconsolable tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday.  Like you, I was horrified, and my wife wept as we watched the coverage.

In the wake of all the media coverage, numerous expert commentary, investigations and unanswered questions, is a heightened awareness about mental health, and in particular Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  I’m not suggesting this condition was the reason for the mass murder.  There is no connection between ASD and committing heinous crimes.

However, the health of your brain can impact cognitive functions such as impulse control, decision-making –and with ASD — the level of empathy.  Clearly, the shooting was a pre-planned act and numerous factors were involved, many of which we may never know.  But, as I reflect on this event, I ask, could it have been prevented?

During my 30-year career investigating mental health we at Amen Clinics gathered the world’s largest database of nearly 80,000 brain SPECT scans and helped tens of thousands of patients worldwide, I know we could have done more.

At the Amen Clinics, we have worked with young people with very serious mental issues, and we have also scanned the brains of 85 murderers, 300 convicted violent felons, and have access to one of the most notorious school shooters (Kip Kinkel) brain SPECT scans, done as part of his trial.  What I’ve learned is that violence, in large part, is a result of a brain health problem.

We have also scanned and treated thousands of people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which undoubtedly will occur in so many people.

The key to getting insight and understanding about violence, or any other behavior, is to evaluate the brain using our 4 Circle Approach. The 4 Circles are made of:

  • Biological (brain function, genetics, injuries, toxins – common in ASD)
  • Psychological (how people think — all evidence is that this murderer had terrible social anxiety)
  • Social (he was isolated, likely leaving him with less empathy and social support, violent video games could also have furthered his lack of empathy and violent fascination)
  • Spiritual (your sense of meaning and purpose in life — this is clearly an amoral act).

Psychiatry remains the only medical specialty that rarely looks at the organ they treat.  Just throwing more medication at people like Adam Lanza, without looking at their brains would likely not have helped.  The recent headlines about the ineffectiveness of psychiatric medication is no longer a secret. Odds are his parents sought help for him.  But if you never look at brain function how would you know if his brain suffered from physical trauma, toxicity, underactivity or overactivity?

Not looking at the brain of people who suffer, and not taking time to understand the whole picture, can leave many without hope or proper help.  It is my profound and humble offering to help educate people about the availability of highly accurate diagnostic work, and with targeted treatment, we can significantly improve mental health outcomes.  I encourage people to utilize brain imaging to better diagnose conditions, along with studying the biology, psychology, social and spiritual issues, to find targeted treatment and help avoid tragedies like Newtown.

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