Schizophrenia and Violence: Debating the Latest News

  • Eric Bellucci, a man diagnosed with schizophrenia who was not taking his medication at the time, faces charges that he killed his mother and father in their home in the upscale Annadale section of Staten Island, a borough of New York City. His sister arrived at the house on Wednesday and saw blood so immediately called the cops to investigate. She had moved out recently because her brother had turned violent against her and their parents.


    The suspect boarded a plane to Israel and was apprehended after a ticket agent in the Ben Gurion Airport recognized him from media accounts and called the Israeli police. He was trying to get a ticket to Beijing and when his credit card was rejected he went to get cash from an ATM. That's when the ticket agent called the police. The man will be extradited to the U.S. to face charges of second degree murder.

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    Eric Bellucci attended the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan and graduated from Williams College. He was a football star on campus. According to a person who commented in response to an online news account of the murder, the suspect traveled in an elite crowd and was brilliant with an encyclopedic knowledge of things. The commenter alleges he was a heavy pot smoker and had become increasingly erratic.


    The risk of violence in someone with schizophrenia escalates to 28 percent with a co-occurring substance abuse problem, according to studies.  Otherwise it is less than 9 percent.


    Staten Island police had been called to the parents' house numerous times because of their son's behavior. He was committed for observation at a hospital at least twice.


    The people who posted comments in response to various online accounts of this crime varied in what they had to say. A lone couple of posters had empathy. A few criticized the policy of deinstitutionalization that freed people with mental illnesses to walk the streets without the safety net of community services to help the former patients get stable.

     

    Others claimed that using the word "brilliant" to describe this troubled 30-year old was a mistake because he had done nothing of significance like cure cancer or create a physics theorem. Most felt that if he had the ability to get on a plane and fly to Israel after committing the crime he was rational enough to stand trial and should be given the death penalty.


    I'll open the call to hear your comments after I give my own take on the news here:


    Years ago I wrote a SharePost reviewing the book Crazy by Pete Earley who talked about how the staff at hospitals routinely turn away people they deem not to be an immediate danger to themselves or others, only to have their conditions worsen to the point where they commit crimes and end up in jail.


    The commitment laws in the U.S. require a person to be perceived as a danger to himself or others before he will be admitted for observation. Pete Early's son committed a crime within 48 hours of being turned away by hospital staff.


    Kendra's Law in New York State has been renewed yet not made permanent: it legally requires certain people with schizophrenia with a history of medication non-compliance and violence to take their meds and stay in treatment. It has not been made permanent because the anti-psychiatry contingent claims a person should have the right to choose whether or not they want to take medication: the civil liberties defense.


  • We cannot argue against the fact that the loss of human capital from schizophrenia due to homelessness, crime and just plain sad if not wasted lives is a great shame.

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    We can argue that the commitment laws are a sham.


    Justice was not served and should have been served before Arthur and Marian Bellucci's lives were snuffed out. Their son needed treatment that was not given. Eric Bellucci is a prime example of someone for whom Kendra's Law should be required.


    The New York State Office of Mental Health provided these statistics which enabled Kendra's law to be renewed until 2010:


    It reported 74 to 87 percent reductions in arrest, incarceration, psychiatric hospitalization, and homelessness rates in comparison to individuals' rates prior to their placement under AOT. (Sharon E. Carpinello, New York State Office of Mental Health, 2005)


    Kendra's Law provides an Assisted Outpatient Treatment Program (AOT) for this target population of "mentally ill people who are capable of living in the community with the help of family, friends and mental health professionals, but who, without routine care and treatment, may relapse and become violent or suicidal or require hospitalization." (Collins, 2005)


    In June of this year the law was extended for another five years. Similar laws, such as the Baker Act, are on the books in other states in the U.S.


    This begs the question of whether anybody can be cured without medication by a health guru when their symptoms are so severe that they're compelled to commit a crime.


    It is my contention that everyone in the world has a social covenant with the other people living on earth: it is our duty to uphold this accord: to do no harm to any human being we come in contact with.

     

    For people with schizophrenia: we are held accountable to take the medication that would allow us to function as responsible members of society.


    The statistics are clear elsewhere: only about 8 percent of those of us diagnosed with SZ are able to live and thrive without medication and at that only when we reach our sixties, as was the case with John Nash, the Nobel Prize winner.


    The story of Eric Bellucci hits home with me because I have done advocacy work for NAMI-Staten Island and its members must now be grieving at this turn of events. I also lived on the Island for many years before moving to the City.

     

    I was lucky that when I discontinued my meds for three months and ended up back in the hospital my story had a happy ending: I committed to taking the Stelazine every day as prescribed and as a result I've been in remission for over 18 years. It could have been worse. I decided I would not institute a drug holiday ever again.


    My heart goes out to the Bellucci family and its extended members right now. They will be in my prayers in the coming weeks.


    I would like at this point to start a dialogue about this that I know could turn into a debate. All comments are welcome.

     

Published On: October 16, 2010