High-profile crimes linked to mental illness; expert says lack of proper care could be to blame

20 pct. of jail population in Denver has some form

DENVER - A therapist's tip to police that his patient might be planning to commit mass murder led to the recent arrest of Mitchell Kusick, but it is just the latest example of a high-profile case linked to mental illness.

In another case, home video showed Tyler Warren Withrow on the ground after being hit by a police stun gun. He was suspected of being mentally ill and investigators said he went on a rampage, breaking windows and cutting himself.

One month later, he allegedly drove to Yuma County and killed his mother and grandmother.

In a third case, police searched a home in Arapahoe County where they found chemicals. They eventually arrested Ari Misha Liggett, who was allegedly driving around with his mother's dismembered body in the car.

Those cases, and others, point to a growing problem with mental illness.

"If they're not able to receive the treatment and the help that they need, sometimes where they end up is in the jail system," said Scott Glaser, executive director of the Colorado branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Glaser said many people in Colorado who need help can't get it because it isn't available or because they can't afford it.

"In some cases, somebody is seeking the help that they need and they're expired on the 72-hour hold and are thrust back into the community without the treatment that they need," Glaser said. "They may present a danger to themselves and others."

The Denver Sheriff's Department said 20 percent of the overall jail population has some form of mental health condition requiring medication. 55 inmates have a condition significant enough to also require separation from the general population.

Jail officials said they do try to stabilize those people and arrange for help once they're released.

Glaser said the Governor's proposed budget includes funding for more psychiatrists at the Department of Corrections, which is also grappling with a big mental illness issue.

7NEWS also found that several law enforcement agencies are providing crisis intervention training to help officers deal with people who may be mentally ill. That training can help diffuse violent situations, including potential suicides.

Still, Glaser said more needs to be done. He says there is an urgent need for more hospital beds for mentally ill patients.

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