Local professor bringing national dialogue about mental illness to Augusta

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News 12 First at Five/ October 15, 2013

AUGUSTA, Ga.--Mass shootings are becoming more common, and researchers are trying to find out why.

Some researchers point to gun control as the answer, others to better treatments for mental illness, but a local psychology professor is bringing the national conversation to Augusta.

Several of the accused shooters from recent mass shootings have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Aaron Alexis, the shooter from the Washington Navy Yard, sought treatment for voices in his head just weeks before his rampage. James Holmes was under psychiatric care before he allegedly shot up a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. Adam Lanza showed signs of Aspberger's disease before opening fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And, unfortunately, the list could continue.

Dr. Steve Hobbs, a psychology professor at GRU says, "Many had contact with mental health professionals already, so it's not like there wasn't any recognition of a mental health issue."

Dr. Steve Hobbs is a psychology professor at GRU. He's also a mental health advocate in our community. He's been compiling data and research about the uptick in mass shootings and the correlation to mental illness.

He explains, "If you think about all the different types of things we currently lump under the term 'mental illness,' about 50% of all people will have a diagnosable mental illness sometime in their life."

There are thousands of diagnoses for different types of mental illness, but the truth of it, Hobbs says, "Most often, people with mental illnesses, if they're violent, they're violent to themselves, not to others."

But, when mass shooters show up with assault rifles at elementary schools and movie theatres, taking innocent lives, and leaving behind a path of despair, it's easy to point the finger.

"We need to avoid knee jerk reactions. Most people who have mental illnesses are not harmful or a threat to be harmful to anyone else," Hobbs says.

But, for the small percentage who are dangerous, Hobbs suggests the key is early treatment. He says mental health parity laws, requiring mental health insurance coverage be equal to physical health coverage, are helping with that.

He says, "The problem is that most people don't know that. A recent survey found that only about 5% of people realized that they've got really good mental healthcare coverage in their healthcare plan."

Dr. Hobbs suggests, if you think you need a mental health evaluation, and you are afraid you can't afford it, check with your insurance company. Chances are,you have a lot better coverage than you think.