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The Lamberts Suffer Tragedy, Now Take Action

Adding to the evidence that Thibault exhibited no previously threatening or deadly behaviors, she was out of treatment for four months and in constant contact with her own twin sister. If one’s own twin sister couldn’t detect anything was seriously wrong with her, what makes anyone think a clinician spending an hour (or even a few hours over the course of six days) with a stranger can do better?

We can’t legislate against irrational, in-the-moment behavior. We can’t prevent people acting in a bizarre manner when they had no previous indication they might be capable of such a tragic and extreme act. And we can’t hold mental health professionals, institutions or the police to some impossible, ideal standard of being able to look into a crystal ball and see inside a person’s mind what their true intents are.

Nonprofit Group Started from Tragedy

Outside of the likely lawsuit the Lamberts seem prepared to file, they are attempting to do some good with their grief:

The Lamberts have started a nonprofit group, Keep Sound Minds – www.keepsoundminds.org – and want to change how police officers respond to individuals exhibiting serious mental illness. The organization, which is holding a fund-raiser March 28 at the Sheraton Boston Hotel, also wants to change how psychiatric hospitals discharge patients, including requirements to discuss risks of suicide and homicide with family members and to make sure patients get outpatient treatment.

Great. Except that I’ll point out that mental health professionals have no special expertise in assessing violence, suicidal or homicidal risk in patients, because we have no reliable indicators for predicting such behavior (the most reliable indicator is a simple one anyone can use — past violent, suicidal or homicidal behavior).

Show Me Your Mental Illness ID

One other idea mentioned in the article is a horrible one, opening a can of privacy worms that would likely result in no better outcomes — and take away the mental health privacy rights of tens of millions of Americans:

Thibault’s husband, Michael, an EMC Corp. employee who met his wife at Bellingham High School, said it might be a good idea for police to have access to a database of individuals who had been committed to psychiatric hospitals, despite the inherent privacy concerns.

Yeah, no thanks, I’ll pass on that. Mental illness ,without the presence of a co-existing substance abuse problem, is no greater risk factor for violence than in the general population (as I’ve noted previously here and here and here). So although we think more information would be more helpful in questionable situations, it actually would just feed the prejudice and stigmatization that already exists about people who have been diagnosed at one time with a mental disorder.

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I sympathize with the feeling of the need to “do something” after a tragedy like this. Words can’t express the depths of their despair, I’m sure. But sometimes the best thing you can do is honor the children’s memory and help educate others about the lack of a comprehensive mental health system in this country that may have helped someone like Thibault receiving ongoing, continuous followup.

Read the full article: Finding words at last for an unspeakable loss – The Boston Globe

The Lamberts Suffer Tragedy, Now Take Action


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). The Lamberts Suffer Tragedy, Now Take Action. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-lamberts-suffer-tragedy-now-take-action/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Dec 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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