Mentally Ill Kids Don't Just Come from Nowhere
The recent post "I am Adam Lanza's Mother" by a woman who posts at anarchistsoccermom and animatedly advertises herself wearing an "I love Che" t-shirt is as slick a piece of exploitative propaganda as anything we've seen in the last four years. Soon after the essay went viral mom blogger Liza Long appeared on CNN and the Today show calling for a national conversation on mental illness.
After the Newtown massacre the self-described author, musician, Classicist and single mother of four felt compelled to share her own story. Long's written account of life with an out of control child focuses solely on her son. She's brutally honest when it comes to his behavior but omits any mention of several other contributing factors for his dysfunction: family dynamics, Michael's early years, Dad's behavior before the divorce and afterwards, her own use or non-use of medications and why she would pump him with psychotropic drugs when the inexplicable cause of his violent outbursts confounded everyone.
We still don't know what's wrong with Michael. Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant or Intermittent Explosive Disorder have all been tossed around at various meetings with probation officers and social workers, counselors and teachers and school administrators. He's been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioral plans. Nothing seems to work.
Did the "Russian novel of behavioral plans" include family counseling, spiritual guidance, an in-depth clinical look at Mom and Dad's behavior, or traumatic events passed from one generation to the next? If Ms. Long indeed fessed up to some family secrets why doesn't she address that in her poignant, gut wrenching depiction of Michael?
After all the mass shootings in recent decades, everything should be on the table including what went on behind closed doors. Instead, Long quotes statistics on gun violence and young white males from the far left magazine Mother Jones. She scapegoats the lack of care for the mentally ill along with guns as reasons for not only Michael's, and Adam's troubles but other recent mass murderers as well.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza's mother. I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother. I am James Holmes's mother. I am Jared Loughner's mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho's mother. And these boys-and their mothers-need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness.
Aside from reports by the Institute of Medicine that indicate mentally ill people have a lower rate of committing violent acts than the general population, Ms. Long by her own admission had access to counselors, social workers and therapists.
Is access to treatment the problem? During a December 19 press conference the President stated as much when he said, "We're going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun." Media accounts of Klebold's, Harris', Hui Cho's, and Holmes' and Lanza's parents suggested they had more than enough financial resources to seek out the best treatment for their sons.
A friend of Hui Cho's family stated he had noticed the killer's anti-social tendencies from an early age. Klebold and Harris, the Columbine killers, were still in their teens when they stockpiled weapons, posted violent treatises online and posed in trench coats all under their mother's nose. Loughner the Tucson shooter had a Satanic altar in the backyard and neighbors even reported they were scared to go near the house because of Loughner's father. Jared Loughner told a friend, "I love my dog more than my parents."
These post-massacre red flags suggest we need to look at how our society trivializes early childhood experiences from infancy to adolescence with terms like "psychobabble" and "get over it." Until neuroscientists isolate a "'bad seed" gene that creates predatory monsters, we shouldn't be so quick to grant parents immunity from the destructive actions of their offspring. What about parents who ignore the illness until it is too late? The victims' families need full disclosure, if only to prevent the next tragedy.
In not addressing possible family issues at the root of her son's rage, Long's promotion of her op-ed does a disservice to a genuine quest for the truth. Nowhere does Ms. Long clue us in on any of her own psychological baggage that may have contributed to her son's hateful outbursts. She would much rather cite research from Human Rights Watch and NPR on the number of mentally ill inmates in various prisons. Long-who along with journalists, professionals, politicians and pundits have no problem holding society culpable for her son's illness-doesn't hold herself or Michael's father up to the same scrutiny.
That's a shame. As a former group facilitator on the adolescent unit of an inpatient psychiatric/chemical dependency facility I witnessed many successes. In almost every case it was the parents willingness to open up about their own dysfunctional childhoods as well as their troubled children's that made the difference.
If people want to open up a discussion on the difficulties of dealing with a mentally ill family member maybe they should include themselves in the exposé.
Read more M. Catharine Evans at Potter Williams Report