TIME Crime

Slender Man Stabbing Suspect Deemed Incompetent for Trial

Enthusiasts Enjoy Comic Con As It Opens In London
Yasmin Ouard poses as Slenderman from the series Mobile Hornets ahead of the MCM London Comic Con Expo Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

A 12-year-old suspect in the stabbing linked to the fictional online character reportedly believes she has Vulcan Mind control

A Wisconsin circuit court judge ruled Friday that one of the two 12-year old girls charged with stabbing a classmate in Wisconsin is incompetent to stand trial for attempted homicide.

This May, two girls allegedly stabbed their classmate during a sleepover to prove their loyalty to the popular online fictional character Slender Man. The creepy figure has been linked to three separate acts of violence, according to ABC News.

Wisconsin law requires any person age 10 and over to be charged as an adult for severe crimes. In this case, the victim was allegedly stabbed 19 times in a nearby woods, with the blade narrowly missing an main artery near her heart. She managed to crawl out of the woods and was found by a passing biker.

Psychologist Brooke Lundbohm of the Wisconsin Forensic Unit analyzed the suspect in question this June. According to the Journal Sentinal, Lundbohm said the 12-year old claimed she could hear and see things like unicorns, the Slender Man and the Harry Potter character Voldemort. Psychiatrist Kenneth Robbins testified that the suspect believes she has Vulcan mind control and is more concerned with angering Slender Man than the prospect of a long prison sentence.

The defendant’s attorneys hope to move the case from adult to juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be 25 years.

[Journal-Sentinal]

TIME behavior

This Blood Test Can Predict Suicide Risk, Scientists Say

Researchers report encouraging advances toward a blood test that can pick up genetic changes linked to suicide

Behaviors can’t be reduced to your genes – they’re far too complicated for that. But genes can lay the foundation for making people more or less likely to respond and act in certain ways, and suicide may be the latest example of that.

In a paper published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers led by Zachary Kaminsky, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found reliable differences in the activity of a specific gene among those who had committed suicide and those who had not. They conducted a series of tests to verify their result. First, they studied brain samples of mentally ill people and those not affected by mental illness, and revealed that a gene, SKA2—which is most abundant in the prefrontal regions of the brain that are involved in inhibiting negative thoughts and corralling impulses—was less active among those who ended up committing suicide than among those who had not. If there isn’t enough of SKA2, or if it isn’t working properly, then receptors that pull the stress hormone cortisol into cells to put a brake on the stress response also don’t work. That can lead to unchecked negative thoughts and impulsive behaviors, like a runaway car without brakes.

MORE: U.S. Special Ops Are Soldiers Committing Suicide in Record Numbers

The scientists also compared amounts of SKA2 among people with suicidal thoughts or those who had already attempted to kill themselves. Based on levels of the gene’s products in the blood, they could predict with 80% to 90% accuracy whether a particular participant had had suicidal thoughts or had tried to commit suicide.

The differences Kaminsky and his colleagues found isn’t a genetic mutation, but a change in how active the SKA2 gene is. Environmental exposures and life experiences can affect how and when genes are turned on or off. That’s what is happening with SKA2 in those who commit suicide; their gene is inhibited from doing its job of controlling their stress response and modulating it properly.

The work is just the first step in potentially developing a blood test for identifying people at highest risk of harming themselves, says Kaminsky. “We are not going to recommend screening everybody,” he says. “I don’t think that makes sense.” But among those at high risk of suicide, knowing that they also have a possible genetic tendency to react negatively to stress may help to them to get consistent support and more aggressive mental health services to help them cope with their stress and avoid more tragic outcomes.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

The Part of Your Brain That Senses Dread Has Been Discovered

This tiny part of your brain tracks bad experiences

A tiny part of the brain can keep track of your expectations about negative experiences—and predict when you will react to an event—researchers at University College London say.

The brain structure, known as the habenula, activates in response to negative events such as electric shocks, and they may help people learn from bad experiences.

The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, marks the first time this association has been proven in humans. Earlier studies showed that the habenula causes animals to avoid negative stimuli by suppressing dopamine, a brain chemical that drives motivation.

In this study, investigators showed 23 people random sequences of pictures followed by a set of good or bad outcomes (an electric shock, losing money, winning money, or neutral). The volunteers were asked to occasionally press a button to show they were paying attention, and researchers scanned their brains for habenula activity using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner. Images were taken at high resolution because the habenula is so small—half the size of a pea.

When people saw pictures associated with painful electric shocks, the habenula activated, while it did not for pictures that predicted winning money.

“Fascinatingly, people were slower to press the button when the picture was associated with getting shocked, even though their response had no bearing on the outcome,” lead author Rebecca Lawson from the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, said in a statement. “Furthermore, the slower people responded, the more reliably their habenula tracked associations with shocks. This demonstrates a crucial link between the habenula and motivated behavior, which may be the result of dopamine suppression.”

The study also showed that the habenula responds more the worse an experience is predicted to be. For example, researchers said the habenula responds much more strongly when an electric shock is certain than when it is unlikely to happen. This means that your brain can tell how bad an event will be before it occurs.

The habenula has been linked to depression, and this study shows how it could play a part in symptoms such low motivation, focusing on negative experiences and pessimism in general. Researchers said that understanding the habenula could potentially help them develop new ways of treating depression.

TIME politics

Montana Senator’s Plagiarism Scandal Has a Silver Lining

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Sen. Walsh's mental health may have nothing to do with lifting from other scholars, but the acknowledgement of PTSD and depression reveals a changing moment in politics.

Sen. John Walsh (D – Montana) is being accused of plagiarism for failing to properly cite the work of others in the master’s thesis he wrote while at the Army War College in 2007. Indeed, it has been widely reported that as much as a quarter of what the senator wrote—and presented as his own work—may have been the ideas and/or words of other prominent experts on Middle East policy.

When asked about this apparent transgression, Sen. Walsh stated that he believed he had done nothing wrong. He didn’t recall using sources improperly, but he is considering apologizing to scholars he failed to cite. A campaign aide for the senator acknowledged the plagiarism, but indicated that Sen. Walsh did not intend to deceive anyone and that his actions should be viewed in the context of a successful military career during which he was a highly decorated officer who served with distinction in the Montana National Guard. The aide noted that Sen. Walsh was going through a difficult period in 2007. One of the soldiers from his unit in Iraq had committed suicide during this time. The senator has acknowledged that he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He is currently taking antidepressant medication as part of this treatment.

We can’t know what Sen. Walsh intended when he failed to include citations for ideas that were not his when he wrote his thesis seven years ago. One indication of whether this act represents a flaw in the senator’s character, a lapse in judgment, or a failure to understand academic standards and practices is to look for a similar pattern of behavior—or lack thereof—across his life and career. Those on both sides of the political spectrum will be doing just that as this story unfolds.

Some are asking if there is a relationship between PTSD and plagiarism. There is none—at least not a direct one. There is, however, a clear relationship between the experience of trauma and possible impairment across a number of areas, including cognitive and emotional functioning. The relationship is even stronger if you experience repeated trauma. Imagine driving to work and having a head-on collision on the highway. Miraculously you walk away with no physical injuries, but others around you die. Imagine that this happens to you not once but several times over the course of several months or a year. You begin to have difficulty sleeping, concentrating and focusing. You might feel depressed, you might have flashbacks, and you most certainly will have guilt and possibly shame. Could this experience of repeated trauma affect your judgment or your ability to process information critical to your success in your relationships, at school, or in your career? Absolutely.

Though the consequences – if any – of Sen. Walsh’s actions in 2007 are yet to be determined, it is important that we continue to have conversations and discussions about the very real impact that trauma can have on someone’s long-term functioning. We need these discussions not because we should excuse behavior that is inappropriate, unethical or criminal, but because one in four Americans suffer from diagnosable mental health conditions, along with the trauma that often creates those conditions. Sometimes war causes these injuries, sometimes a natural disaster, or a rape, or an assault. Sometimes it is a bad role of the genetic dice that leads to significant impairment. Isn’t it better to discuss these issues openly and, by doing so, encourage appropriate care and relieve unnecessary suffering?

Perhaps one silver lining resulting from the last 13 years of war—and many tragic stories of those who have struggled upon their return from battle—is that we as a nation are becoming a bit more comfortable with the topic of mental health. Until now, few if any politicians or other public or military officials have been willing to admit they have a mental health issue, let alone suggest it may have clouded their judgment. Perhaps we are more willing to entertain the possibility that the cause of someone’s behavior just might be a bit more complicated than we think. After all, mental health is a part of the human condition. We all experience it, and sometimes the difference between being mentally sharp and healthy or not depends on whether we swerve the wrong way, are born with the wrong DNA or watch a buddy die in combat.

Barbara Van Dahlen, named to the TIME 100 in 2012, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour. A notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families, Dr. Van Dahlen has become a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans and their families.

TIME neuroscience

A ‘High’ From Marijuana Is Really the Opposite in Your Brain

Daily Life In South Africa
A youth smokes marijuana in Soweto township, near Johannesburg, on July 2, 2013 Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

Marijuana dulls your response to dopamine

A new study suggests marijuana blunts the brain’s reaction to dopamine, making users less responsive to the chemical responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure.

In the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers studied the brains of 24 marijuana abusers — that is, people who smoked multiple times a day — and how they reacted to methylphenidate, a stimulant often used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Using personality tests and brain imaging, the researchers found the pot users had blunted behavioral, cardiovascular and brain responses to methylphenidate compared with control participants. Marijuana abusers scored lower on tests of positive emotional activity and higher on negative emotional reactions.

The researchers believe that pot not only dampens the brains’ dopamine reaction to stimulants but also influences the area of the brain involved in reward processing. The participants had lower reward sensitivity, higher levels of irritability, and likely more depression and anxiety.

The researchers conclude that the way pot interferes with the brain may contribute to drug cravings. And that a “high” is really the opposite in the brain.

TIME Research

Women More Likely Than Men to Seek Mental Health Help, Study Finds

And women seek help earlier

Women with chronic physical illnesses are 10% more likely to seek support for mental health issues than men with similar illnesses, according to a new study.

The study from St. Michael’s Hospital and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science also found that women tend to seek out mental health services months earlier than men. Researchers looked at people diagnosed with at least one of four illnesses: diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Of people diagnosed with these conditions, women were not only more likely than men to seek mental health services, but they also used medical services for mental health treatment six months earlier than men in any three-year period.

For the purposes of the study, “mental health services” were defined as one visit to a physician or specialist for mental health reasons, such as depression, anxiety, smoking addiction or marital difficulties.

“Our results don’t necessarily mean that more focus should be paid to women, however,” study author Flora Matheson, a scientist in the hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health, said. “We still need more research to understand why this gender divide exists.”

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal’s Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, could suggest various conclusions about the way that different sexes use mental health services. It may mean that women feel more comfortable seeking mental health support than men or that men delay seeking support. The study could also imply that symptoms are worse among women, which would encourage more women to seek help and to do so sooner.

“Chronic physical illness can lead to depression,” Matheson said. “We want to better understand who will seek mental health services when diagnosed with a chronic physical illness so we can best help those who need care.”

MONEY Kids and Money

How to Get a Grip on Your Child’s Therapy Bills

Parent and journalist Beth Pinsker explains how to get your kid the mental health treatment he or she needs without breaking the bank.

When I signed up my kids for therapy after my divorce, I made some financial mistakes. The biggest was choosing an out-of-network provider, over one who takes my insurance.

Instead of a simple $20 co-pay, I spent $150 out of pocket and get 70 percent of it reimbursed, which works out to about $1,000 more over a school year. In contrast, I have a friend whose child’s therapy sessions require no co-pays at all.

In this way, mental health coverage has a lot in common with airline pricing, where seats on the same plane may sell at many different price points.

Overall, Americans spend about $2,100 per child for healthcare, according to the Health Care Cost Institute’s report for 2007-2010. During that period, HCCI says, the use of mental health services by children jumped 24 percent.

At the same time, nearly half of all psychiatrists no longer take insurance, according to JAMA Psychiatry, with a similar portion of psychologists now only accepting private payment.

Add to that an overall shortage of providers – there are 8,700 child and adolescent psychiatrists, compared to about 50,000 for adults, according to Dr. Paramjit Joshi, division chief of psychiatry and psychology at Children’s National Health System – and you have a supply and demand problem that makes cost a real issue for parents.

Stay in-network

Finding a provider in your area may be easy enough, but finding one whose availability suits your child’s schedule could be downright impossible.

That’s why I went the private-pay route. My area of Brooklyn has no shortage of doctors on my plan, but after calling a dozen and finding that an after-school slot would entail a months-long wait, I went with a personal recommendation.

To avoid the appointment runaround, lean on your plan’s customer service department to make calls for you, says Dr. Ian Shaffer, executive medical director for behavioral health for Healthfirst, a New York health plan.

Need a therapist with a specialty? You may be able to get that provider covered if you ask, Shaffer says.

He cited a case where the family wanted a therapist who shared their ethnic heritage, and had been recommended someone who charged an eye-popping $350 a visit. Healthfirst found them another therapist with the same credentials, and covered the visits.

Reduce co-pays

My friend with the zero co-pay has insurance through the state’s child health plan, but enrolment in the plan is possible only if you don’t have access to other coverage.

Most people who are on health plans through their workplace don’t have payment wiggle room, but you can ask individual providers what they can do to help, especially if you have a high deductible.

Many private-pay therapists have sliding scales based on income; others have lower fees if you work with a trainee. Since the latter are supervised grad students, “it’s like getting two doctors for the price of one, says Clair Mellenthin, director of child and adolescent services at Wasatch Family Therapy in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Also check state resources to help pay for therapy, especially if treatment is needed for some kind of trauma following a crime. Many states have victim funds, says Mellenthin.

Mark progress

Therapy can seem like an endless process, so parents need to make sure it’s staying on track, says Mitchell Prinstein, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After the initial evaluation, make sure you have a clear treatment plan and markers to help you figure out if your child is making progress. If there’s little improvement, get a second opinion, Prinstein says. And don’t feel bad about moving on if the therapist is not the right fit.

Fight for your rights

For ongoing treatment, it’s important to make sure the insurance company is not crimping your coverage.

Even though parity clauses in the new healthcare laws say you should get as many sessions as you need, that’s not always the case.

After a while, insurers may start saying the sessions are no longer medically necessary. This is especially true if your child has a serious ongoing problem, says Alan Nessman, senior special counsel for the American Psychological Association.

Any denial of coverage can be costly.

Joe Hoyle’s bill for one month of his daughter’s treatment for a serious illness was $125,000 after his insurance company denied the claim (he negotiated a lower payment with the hospital directly). To obtain ongoing coverage, Hoyle and his wife, who live in Virginia, got her on Medicaid.

“They say they cover things, but then they get to decide when things are ‘stable,'” he says.

Hoyle urges parents to get care early for their children to try to head off bigger problems.

“You can go along for 10 or 12 years and think your kid is just quirky, then almost literally overnight, it can go to full-blown mental illness,” he says. “You hate to talk about it, but people need to know because state governments need to do more to help people out.”

TIME mental health

Australian Woman Poisons Daughter to Get Facebook Attention

After being close to death last year, the girl has made a full recovery

An Australian mother has been jailed for deliberately poisoning her otherwise healthy 4-year-old daughter with chemotherapy drugs.

Over a nine-month period, the 23-year-old woman used the Internet to procure the cancer treatment drug cyclophosphamide — the lesser side effects of which include hair loss and fertility impairment — and then fed the chemicals to her child, who consequently came to suffer from near-fatal bone-marrow failure, reports AFP.

Her motive, say prosecutors, was attention. As her daughter’s health deteriorated, the woman turned to Facebook to chronicle the ongoing “fight for life,” attempting to evoke sympathy by describing the stricken child’s dire need for a bone-marrow transplant.

Although at one point close to death, the girl has since made a good recovery, the court heard, and has been placed in the custody of her grandparents. Her mother, who cannot be named to protect the victim’s identity, was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading guilty to grievous bodily harm. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 25 years’ imprisonment in Australia.

According to her legal team, the woman suffered from factitious disorder by proxy, defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as “the deliberate production or feigning of physical or psychological signs or symptoms in another person who is under the individual’s care.”

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Va. State Senator Tells Parents of Troubled Kids: You’re Not Alone

VA State Senator Creigh Deeds Discusses Mental Health Care Reform
Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds speaks about mental health reform at The National Press Club, March 31, 2014 in Washington. Drew Angerer—Getty Images

Creigh Deeds, whose son attacked him and then committed suicide last November, talks to TIME about what the parents of mentally ill children can learn from his experience and that of recent mass killings like the Santa Barbara shooting rampage

Creigh Deeds, a 56 year-old Virginia state senator, can sympathize better than most with the father of Elliot Rodger, the 22-year old who killed six students in Santa Barbara last month before shooting himself. Last November, Creigh’s son, Gus, who had been suffering from mental illness, stabbed his father before committing suicide.

There are similarities in the deadly situations: the parents, divorced, worked together to help their troubled son. The public safety net meant to deal with such situations failed to prevent the tragedies. A month before Rodger’s rampage, the police visited Rodger, 22, after his mother alerted mental health authorities, but left after concluding that Rodger was not a threat. Thirteen hours before his death, Gus, 24, sought psychiatric treatment but was turned away at a local facility that said it didn’t have any available beds. Both families were wracked by their son’s death and have said it is now their responsibility to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Deeds led the effort to successfully pass a mental health bill in Virginia earlier this year, and he told TIME in a short email exchange Monday that America’s privacy laws make it “exceedingly difficult” for parents of adult children to advocate for their children. He also had a message to parents: “be open to the unthinkable,” “stay involved” in your children’s lives and lobby elected officials on how to fix flaws in the system. He also tells parents of children struggling with mental illness, “you are not alone.”

Please find below TIME’s conversation with Creigh Deeds.

What was your reaction when you heard the news about the Santa Barbara shooting?

My reaction was probably similar to that of just about everybody else. I was shocked and saddened. The sadness deepened after I saw the snippet of YouTube video and learned of Elliot Rodger’s extensive history with mental health professionals and law enforcement.

The parents of the shooter had expressed concern about their son to the local police, and the police had three previous encounters with Elliot Rodger, but that did not prevent what happened. What can be done to make sure mass shootings don’t happen again?

I wish it were that easy. In a free society, I am afraid that we cannot completely eliminate the chance that a mass shooting, or any other crime, will occur. But I do not think we should ever be satisfied thinking that they are inevitable.

While an individual with mental illness is more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than a perpetrator, the recent high profile mass shootings shine a spotlight on mental health. We have to work hard to remove the stigma associated with mental health. We have to talk about mental health issues. We have to hold uncomfortable discussions with loved ones, roommates, or coworkers in need and seek treatment for those we care about. We have to understand that we are our brother’s keeper. We have to constantly be thinking about the needs of other people. As parents, we need to stay involved in our children’s lives and be open to the unthinkable, that our children may need help. And, when that important step is taken, the services must be there to meet the need.

What is your advice to other parents who are struggling with potentially dangerous children struggling with mental health problems? Who should they turn to?

Parents need to love their children, and sometimes that means protecting them from themselves. As soon as problems are identified, professional help should be sought. If you notice an escalation in behavior, do not hesitate to contact law enforcement or initiate proceedings to have your child evaluated. Educate yourself on mental illness and become involved in an advocacy organization. You are not alone. And if you encounter flaws in the system, a lack of services, or a problem, share you story with your elected officials.

Based on the volume of calls, emails, and letters I have received from throughout the United States since last fall, I know there are significant lapses in services and people have limited places to turn for help in many areas of this country. Moreover, our laws to protect patient privacy make it exceedingly difficult for parents of adult children to advocate for their children. Despite those barriers, parents must never give up.

Is there anything you learned as a parent or lawmaker after your son’s death that you wish you had known before?

There are many things I wish I had known, but none of them will bring my son back. The key lesson in all of this is that as parents, we have to develop strong relationships with our children and stay involved in their lives, especially if there are signs that the child, no longer a child, is in trouble.

Does the issue of handling mentally ill youth need a greater national focus?

Yes. The issue of handling mentally ill youth does need a greater national focus. Many mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, do not become apparent until people are in their late teens or early twenties. Part of the national discussion needs to be a greater understanding that mental illness affects one in four Americans, nearly every family, and people need to be better equipped to identify problems before they manifest themselves into dangerous illnesses. Moreover, there are some necessary changes, HIPPA [privacy rule] reform for example, that can only take place at the federal level.

TIME PTSD

Here’s What Happens To The Mind After 5 Years of Captivity

Captured US Solider
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in an undated image provided by the U.S. Army. U.S. Army/AP

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has a lot of healing to do after five years of captivity. The physical scars may fade, but the emotional ones can sometimes be too deep to heal completely

U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the last known American POW, was finally returned home over the weekend after five years held in captivity in Afghanistan. Since Bergdahl’s return, curious details have emerged about his mental state before and after capture. And it all begs the question: What does five years in captivity do to the human mind?

Bergdahl’s repatriation is going to be a challenge, and piecing together the psychologically and physically broken veteran is a delicate process. After all, an abduction is the ultimate exchange of power, spurring the start of a complicated relationship based on both deep distrust and reliance, say experts. “He’s to some degree merged with those who held him,” says Brian Engdahl, professor of PTSD Research and Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota. “He was totally dependent on them for food, shelter, clothing. It can reduce a person to a weak state where their entire life revolves around how their captors are treating them.” A morsel of food becomes a generous gift, only to be withheld at the next feeding.

Many POWs find physical and mental strength by relying on their fellow captured soldiers, but Bergdahl was alone. Speculation about whether he suffered from Stockholm Syndrome—the phenomenon where captives identify with their captors—are not unwarranted, though so far evidence hasn’t suggested this to be true.

Studies of POWs from the Korean War show that the psychological injuries from captivity stem from two types of trauma. The first is physical and usually short-term, caused by malnutrition and injury. The more persisting trauma is, of course, psychological. At Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, which treats U.S. vets from Afghanistan and Iraq, Bergdahl is likely being tested for depression, anxiety, and PTSD, says Engdahl. “Beyond that, he could be feeling deep guilt, shame, bewilderment, and a lost sense of identity,” says Engdahl. If his English is poor, as has been reported, it’s likely from lack of speaking.

Once home, psychological challenges won’t likely abate overnight, says Barbara Rothbaum, the associate vice chair of clinical research in the department of psychiatry at Emory School of Medicine. “But even if the trauma is over, it’s not really over,” she says. POWs often experience flashbacks, and will wake up in the middle of the night thinking they are still in captivity. Many victims become avoidant and don’t want to talk about their experience because they are afraid it will trigger memories, she says. It’s one of the reasons many will forgo treatment.

“I’ve had veterans tell me they were drunk for a year,” says Rothbaum. But avoidance is one of the worst ways to deal with the harsh return, and Rothbaum’s research has shown that talking about experiences early can actually help prevent the onset of PTSD.

“People want to avoid talking about the worst parts, the most shameful, the most embarrassing,” says Rothbaum. “But it will help.”

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