A blog post went viral yesterday called "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" from a mother, Liza Long, who says she has a 13 year old child with mental illness although they are not sure what he has since he has been labeled to have quite a few different things. She describes her son "Michael" as violent, pulling a knife on her, and threatening to kill himself. She talks about how frustrating it is that people (although no psychiatrists or psychologists are mentioned as being consulted yet) have not been able to find the right medications to help him and there is no way to get intensive help without charging him with a crime and sending him to jail. At one point she says "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. " She is trying to bring to the conversation the fact that parents with children who have mental illness, especially to this degree, really need better medical care for their kids.
I shared this woman's post on my facebook page because I found her perspective not only heart-wrenching but also interesting, and eye opening. I am grateful that she shared her story and hope it raises awareness about the need for better mental health care. At the same time I can see how a blog post such as hers can be blown out of proportion and raise hysteria about mental illness. (I also have further concerns which I mention in Part II of this post below.)
Those of us who have lived with violent people, will hear in Ms. Long's post the fear, anxiety, sadness, and fervent prayer that their loved on will get the help they need. It is traumatic to live in fear for your life. It is devastating to watch a loved one become violent and all you want to do is help them. Seriously you just want to ask "What is wrong with this world that we can not get people the help they need? No one should suffer this much."
I worry that people who do not know personally situations like these may not hear the undertones of her post and instead interpret the sensationalized "I am Adam Lanza's mother" statement as proof that mentally ill people become mass murderers. I fear that this post will encourage the public to focus more on the idea that any kid or person with mental illness, especially one who exhibits any violence, will be considered another Adam Lanza, a mass murderer, instead of focus on our need for better care for mental illness. I don't want her post to be seen as "Here, here is proof that mentally ill people are killers. This lady even admits her son is the next Adam Lanza."
After I wrote Part I of this post, a friend let me know about the post You Are Not Adam Lanza's Mother and this other blog post: Want the Truth Behind "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother"? Read Her Blog by Sarah Kendizor and Sarah's update post too.
Ms. Kendizor's post about Liza Long sounds much like my initial reactions to the "I Am Adam Lanzer's Mother" post. I find many of Liza's other blog posts concerning and I was surprised to read that she teaches ethics at a college. I can't imagine talking about my child the way she talks about her kids. I thought Liza's act of saying her son is basically a mass murderer by claiming him to be like Lanza was unfounded and extremely detrimental to her son. (As I wrote about here.) My initial reaction to her post was that she was demonizing her son, had pegged him as a violent threat to society, and never considered how this would harm him for the rest of his life. She changed his name in this post, but calls him by his real name in many of her other blog posts. All I could think is that I wish she had read my post, Tips for Responsibly Posting About Kids because she had just seriously hurt her son with this post. If you want to read a much more respectful and powerful post from another mother with a child with mental illness who is sometimes violent, read Leisel's post Dear Mr., President We Have a Problem: My Son is Mentally Ill. I'm Scared.
Yet when I wrote Part I I tamed my critique of her and tried to look at her with a more compassionate eye as a mother who was terrified that her son could hurt himself and others. I understand the fear of a violent loved one. I tried to be a more compassionate minister and thought maybe I was just being too harsh on her blunt satirical writing style which other people seem to think has an honest edge to it. Reading Sarah's post though, I am reminded to follow my initial instincts.
I was very concerned that in all she says about the help she has gotten for her son, she never mentions a psychiatrist or psychologist except a referral to a pediatric psychologist from an emergency room visit with no indication that she actually took her son to the psychologist. Even though she has a 2010 blog post about her son going to the psych ward for saying he was going to kill himself. Then what appalls me in that suicide post is that she says suicide is lazy and selfish. She speaks with care and worry about her son's suicidal thoughts and yet she basically calls him lazy and selfish. How is that helpful at all to a child with mental illness?
People really need to know that one of the things which can make mental illness 100 times worse than it has to be is family who treat you poorly and judge you because of your illness. It increases the symptoms of your illness and adds to the negative thinking that leads to suicide. Mental illness is made worse by your environment. Ms. Long, in my opinion from what I read on her blog, is contributing to her son's illness. (I don't know her personally so I am fine with entertaining the possibility that I am wrong here. And note that I say "contributes" not "causes.")
I wish she could have written about the situation with her son in a more compassionate way and not linked it to a mass murder.
My suggestion is to read Liza Long's blog posts for yourself and decide what you think about her statements. I do believe though that three definite things came out of the "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" post:
1. Her son has been irreparably hurt by Liza's actions. He can probably add trauma to the list of things he will be dealing with now.
2. The stigma that mentally ill people are violent was perpetuated.
3. The issue of accessible, quality care for mental illness was brought to the forefront.
UPDATE: Here is another post to ponder: I Am Adam Lanza's Psychiatrist.