Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Causes and Symptoms

I stumbled on this article from CNN which details the sob story of a 15 year old boy found guilty of murder. The boy is a product of a troubled homelife and he was institutionalized at 12 after threatening to commit suicide to get away from his abusive father; his mother is not in the picture. After a week in the psych ward, the boy was released and moved in with his grandparents. He switched medications and was put on Zoloft by a local shrink.

The boy quickly started having intensely negative reactions to the Zoloft. He complained of painful restlessness and hearing voices. As his behaviors became more unpredictable, his grandparents resorted to threats, telling the child they would send him back to his abusive father. Desperate, the boy sat around, mulled it over and in his not-so-sane state decided to kill his grandparents and burn down the house.

The defense argued to the jury that Zoloft made the boy incapable of making rational decisions and therefore, he could not be held to the same standard as other 12 year olds. In the Carolinas, the jury has the option of declaring a person guilty but insane, in which case the person is institutionalized by the state in a hospital rather than a prison.

This case is the second high-profile case of a homicidal young male on Zoloft, the first being Eric Kleobold, one of the infamous Columbine murderers. A pattern has most definitely emerged.

But the central question in both of these cases has been left to the wolves. Some people are clearly sociopaths while others are so delusional that it is clearly unfair to expect them to behave in a rational manner. Were these boys delusional? What drove them to murder?

To me, the commonality I would point to before I would finger Zoloft is the utterly turbulent family lives of these kids. To be mentally ill is a trying experience, to have a chronic disease of any sort is difficult, but to be 13 years old trying to cope with a chronic disease that warps your perceptions? That's hideous. Add in the additional angst of an abusive parent. Yikes.

And yet, there are hundreds of thousands of kids in the US living in similar situations with similar disease who don't murder people. What translates a thought into an action? What shatters the moral compus to such an extent that murder/suicide becomes an acceptable action?

I suppose the biological explanation behind it all is a little bit like trying to understand why I like apples and you like oranges.

What stops us from crossing the line between destructive thoughts and destructive behaviors?