Did the system fail a budding killer?

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 25, 2011 - 11:56 AM

Michael Swanson murdered two Iowans in cold blood. His parents describe a son who kept slipping through the cracks.

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cks1950Jul. 16, 1111:32 PM

I can't think of anything worse if you're a parent. My heart goes out to them.

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mkittelsJul. 17, 1112:10 AM

The parents, in revealing the history of their failed attempts to find help for their son, have made a significant gift to society. Their story is added to others. Particularly memorable to me is that of parents who brought their son to receive help, at each place being turned away, so returned home where (on that same day) the son beheaded his mother. Surely we must reform our mental health system. And stories of grieving parents, unable to receive needed help, will spur such reform.

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jcinbpJul. 17, 11 1:03 AM

The system did not fail a budding killer. Swanson's attorney said it himself "there is no cure for a psychopath". The system DID fail the two victims by failing to intercept Swanson before he could do the damage that he did. Now it will cost the State of Iowa millions of dollars to prosecute and incarcerate him.

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deedee1961Jul. 17, 11 1:34 AM

There is a very real need for comprehensive mental health care, AND access to those facilities for those that need the treatment. I see no wisdom in the GOP goal of reducing funding for mental health care in this state. This from the group of folks who call themselves pro-life? Pro-life means supporting people at any stage of life span - and that includes during times of trouble. My heart goes out to these parents...they did everything they could to help their son.

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meegwichJul. 17, 11 5:44 AM

A very sad story. Psychiatry is as much quackery as it is anything else. If a consulting psychiatrist from the University of Minnesota is called in to evaluate this young man and determines he is mentally ill and in need of medication right now, but doesn't treat him and recommends he enroll at a clinic at the U-MN so he can be "researched" is absurd. This meeting took place in October and he didn't have an appointment until the middle of December!!! Seems to me that the psychiatrist had an ethical obligation to get that young man help. Whatever happened with "first do no harm" The ultimate harm surly happened in the death of two innocent people and a obviously mentally ill young man confined in prison for life. Quackery.

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meegwichJul. 17, 11 6:01 AM

Just out of curiosity I looked up on the database from the Minnesota Board of Pharmacy payments to physicians from pharmaceutical companies. Minnesota law requires all payments be reported every year. Dr. Jensen has received tens of thousands of dollars for giving lectures and speaking engagements endorsing the use of certain antipsychotic drugs. If he can do all of that he ethically and morally should have made sure that young man was going to get help before he hurt someone else or himself. Instead, he wanted him to be eligible for "research" WHAT QUACKERY

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trice01Jul. 17, 11 6:50 AM

Yes, the system failed Swanson and us long ago. It was apparent that he was a sociopath a long time ago, and he should have been confined to a mental institution. So glad we automatically appoint taxpayer paid lawyers to fight this process for every single mentally ill person who faces commitment. Talk about biting your own tail...

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jer029Jul. 17, 11 7:05 AM

My heart also goes out to the many victims touched by this person, including the parents. Still, I’m always bemused when I hear about how the ‘system’ failed, as if there is a perfect system that is designed for every individual or circumstance. Dare we consider the possibility that there are some people who just can’t be saved, who must be locked up. Police officers and school teachers are supposed to be all things to all people – including surrogate parents and mental health professionals. Mental health at its best is probably as much of an art as it is a science. And let’s not forget that it wasn’t too many years ago that it was decided to ‘mainstream’ many of the mentally ill and get those ‘evil’ institutions closed. Many of those mentally ill have now joined the ranks of the homeless while others whose behavior was criminal have been incarcerated in prisons. Of course we need to review this case and try to make changes to prevent similar future incidents, but there will always be other failures, and changes to the ‘system’ to improve things in one case can very likely lead to failures in other cases. As much as we would like to blame specific individuals who are part of the ‘system’, things are never as simple as they appear in 20-20 hindsight. Perfection will never be achieved, and most government ‘systems’ rarely do things efficiently or cost effectively. In summary, let’s analyze what has happened here, make reasonable adjustments (if possible), and prepare to cope with the next ‘system’ failure that will surely come.

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frailty53Jul. 17, 11 7:45 AM

This is a difficult and tragic case. This young man appears from information available to meet the criteria for the diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder; a disorder for which there is no cure and little if any effective treatment. Notably, Antisocial Personality Disorder is often not consider a "mental illness" but rather a deficit in humanity and character best dealt with by the legal system. This disorder is very common among criminals, and people with these features (lack of remorse, lack of empathy, lack of respect for others, dishonesty, impulsiveness) are dealt with mainly by the criminal justice system. Whether he had any other mental health diagnosis is not clear. These people will often report a wide variety of experiences or "symptoms", but dishonesty and manipulation are features of the disorder. So what they report depends on what they think they will gain; or what consequences they will avoid. The best determination of any actual mental illness will come from an experienced forensic (legal) psychiatrist. They are trained to watch out for con artists. In this case, the forensic psychiatrist determined there was no evidence of mental illness beyond Antisocial Personality Disorder. If so he is finally in the best place for him for the rest of his life. Sadly, innocents died in the process of him getting there.

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SupervonJul. 17, 11 7:49 AM

How does anyone ever know the perfect answer? I guess we are all here for reasons untold. Sad.

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