Why Can Florida Adults With Mental Illness Still Buy Guns?

After every tragic, gun-related suicide the question inevitably arises: Why, in a country that purportedly mandates background checks and champions mental health, was a suicidal person permitted to purchase a firearm? Now, a new study in Health Affairs sheds light on the loopholes in our background check system, which allow people with serious mental illness in Florida to legally purchase guns—even after involuntary mental health examinations and hospitalizations.

“Our federal gun regulations pertaining to mental illness prohibit lots of people from accessing firearms who are not violent, and never will be,” coauthor Jeffrey W. Swanson of Duke University said in a press statement. “At the same time, they fail to identify some people who will be violent or suicidal. With these data, we can improve criteria for restrictions that might actually reduce gun violence, but also carefully balance risk and rights.”

[youtube id=”LQ27q-c2nms” width=”600″ height=”350″]

Gun violence and suicide are growing problems in the United States. Studies have shown that states with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun-related suicides, and one report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were at least 21,175 firearm suicides in 2013, alone—accounting for nearly half of all suicides that year.

Unfortunately, politics make it tricky to study this phenomenon without raising the ire of the gun lobby and Congress is still actively preventing the CDC from conducting meaningful gun violence research. And that’s a shame, because independent studies have consistently proven that a scientific approach—rather than a hotheaded political one—could reduce these tragedies without sacrificing individual freedoms.

Regardless, as long as Congress continues to prevent the CDC from performing robust research, privately funded studies will continue to be our best resource for preventing gun violence. For this particular study, researchers examined gun use, violent crime, and suicide among 81,704 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression in Florida between 2002 and 2012. During the study period, they found that 254 study subjects had committed suicide and that 50 of them had used a gun to kill themselves.

Shockingly, a full 72 percent were legally eligible to buy guns—despite their clear diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

This loophole was based in a (now, thankfully defunct) Florida law that stated only mental health patients who had been involuntarily committed were prohibited from purchasing firearms. In other words, a schizophrenia, bipolar, or depression patient who had been involuntarily examined and even hospitalized for his or her own safety could still buy a gun in Florida as of 2012, as long as he or she had never been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital by court order. And even though Florida has since tightened up these lax laws, officials are still not permitted to seize a patient’s guns after he or she has been diagnosed with a serious psychiatric disorder. So as long as someone buys a small arsenal before receiving a diagnosis, he or she can keep the weapons!

The authors suggest that many gun-related suicides could be prevented if states would prohibit people who have been involuntarily held during any mental health crisis—regardless of whether they were formally committed to a psychiatric hospital—from buying firearms from federally licensed dealers. “These individuals have already been identified during a previous mental health crisis,” Swanson says. “They haven’t been committed, but we know they’re at increased risk of harming themselves or others. This is a lost public health opportunity in many states.”

Meanwhile, Swanson and his team recognize that their results are limited to a specific population, and not necessarily applicable to other states and situations. But they hope that their study will nonetheless help guide federal and state efforts to reduce gun violence in meaningful ways. “The study in Florida is one piece of the puzzle, and we want to continue to build evidence from different states to draw a better picture of how these laws work under different conditions,” Swanson says.

“We live in a country where private gun ownership is cherished, constitutionally protected, and very prevalent. Gun violence is a challenging problem in the U.S., and one that requires a lot of careful thinking and research to bring evidence to bear for these policies.”

Dead Alive: Rare Mental Illness Called Walking Corpse Syndrome Makes People Think They’re Dead

Zombies are so hot right now that they seem to be everywhere. The Walker hordes are featured heavily on “The Walking Dead,” a show that debuted in 2010 and is arguably one of the most popular shows on television. Zombies also make an appearance in video games such as Call of Duty, and people are even pulling zombie apocalypse pranks. Essentially, zombies have become a mainstream way to suspend our disbelief and engage with the land of make-believe. However, they may be walking among us in real life thanks to a rare mental illness called Cotard’s Syndrome.

People with the condition are known to have any of a number of delusions that range from believing they have no organs, blood or body parts to insisting they are actually dead even though they are very much still breathing. In even more rare cases of what is also known as walking corpse syndrome, people with the condition consider themselves immortal. Although walking corpse syndrome is considered extremely rare, its exact prevalence is unknown. One Hong Kong study involving 349 psychogeriatric patients suggests the condition afflicts about 0.57 percent of the population. Another study conducted in Mexico in 2010, which involved 1,321 patients, found that 0.62 percent of the population had the rare mental health disorder. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this syndrome is often found in people with mood or psychotic disorders and medical conditions.

Cotard’s syndrome was first described by (and later named after) French neurologist Jules Cotard in 1880, Psychology Today reported. Cotard had a patient nicknamed Mademoiselle X who claimed she was missing several body parts and organs, including brain, chest, stomach and intestines. She also believed she was “eternally damned.” Given she denied having innards, Mademoiselle X didn’t see a need to eat, and soon died of starvation. Cotard said the condition was a form of delusion associated with severe depression, “marked psychomotor retardation, presence of anxiety symptoms and other depressive symptoms,” researchers said.

A more recent case of the condition involved a man named Graham who has been living with walking corpse for at least nine years. His condition emerged after he struggled with severe depression. Eight months after attempting to commit suicide by taking an electrical appliance with him into the bathtub, he told doctors he believed his brain was dead or missing, Medical Daily previously reported.

Symptoms of walking corpse syndrome can vary greatly. However, researcher Yamada Katsuragi and his colleagues published a longitudinal study in 1999 suggesting that the syndrome seems to have three stages: germination, blooming and chronic.

The germination stage is marked by hypochondriasis, or health anxiety, and severe depression. They may go to the doctor with vague complaints, as was the case with a 28-year-old housewife whom researchers refer to as Ms. S. A case report shows she went to an outpatient department complaining that her liver was “putrefying” or decaying and that her heart was “altogether absent.”

Before seeking medical help, Ms. S initially developed loss of sleep and a feeling of loneliness which are said to have progressed to loss of interest in her surroundings and daily household work — both classic signs of depression. This withdrawal is common among people who are severely depressed and could represent the germination stage of the syndrome for Ms. S. Graham also suffered from severe depression, as do many people with the condition.

The blooming stage is known as the time patients develop hallmark symptoms of walking corpse syndrome, such as denying they have certain body parts or that they even exist. These symptoms worsen in severity during the chronic stage and interfere with patients’ ability to go about their daily lives. They are known to begin to neglect their own hygiene and self-care, to harm themselves, and fail to recognize their own faces as well as those of others.

For example, Graham, who no longer believed he had a brain or head, refused to eat, lost interest in smoking and being social because he saw “no point because I was dead.” Graham also made frequent visits to his local cemetery because he said “it was the closest I could come to death” and thought he would fit in there. “I didn’t want to face people,” he told the New Scientist magazine. “There was no point. I didn’t feel pleasure in anything. I used to idolize my car, but I didn’t go near it. All the things I was interested in went away.”

Graham became the first person with walking corpse syndrome to undergo a brain scan. Doctors found activity levels in large areas of his frontal and parietal brain — areas involved in motor function, memory, and sensory information — were extremely low, resembling someone in a vegetative state.

“I’ve been analyzing PET scans for 15 years and I’ve never seen anyone who was on his feet, who was interacting with people, with such an abnormal scan result,” neurologist Steven Laurey, at the University of Liege in Belgium, told The New Scientist. “Graham’s brain function resembles that of someone during anaesthesia or sleep. Seeing this pattern in someone who is awake is quite unique to my knowledge.”

In addition, Scientific American attributes the failure to recognize people’s faces to misfiring in the amygdala area of the brain. This may also explain why some people with this condition don’t believe they exist, because not recognizing one’s own face “can lead to a lack of association between their reflections or projected self and their own sense of self, leading to a belief that one doesn’t exist,” Scientific American reported.

Therapy along with antidepressants and antipsychotics have been shown to help control the symptoms as well as electroconvulsive treatment. In fact, a 2008 case report claims most cases of walking corpse syndrome are more responsive to electroconvulsive treatment than to pharmacological treatment. However, more research needs to be done on this condition because scientists are still in the dark about the cause of this disease and how to treat it.