‘I am Adam Lanza’s mother. My son is mentally ill. I love him. But he terrifies me…’

Heart-wrenching post by mother about struggle to bring up mentally challenged son raises debate on link between violence and mentally ill

In the wake of the horrible mass murder of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, Liza Long, the mother of a mentally ill son, has penned a blog post re-titled ‘I am Adam Lanza’s Mother’ and republished on The Blue Review .

The heart-wrenching post about her daily struggle in bringing up her own son has opened a raging debate about care for the mentally challenged and if it is fair to draw up a link between violence and the mentally ill.

Liza, whose essay has been republished on websites from Gawker to the Huffington Post, lives with her 13-year-old son. The boy, named Michael (name changed by her to protect her son’s identity), is frequently out of control and has threatened to kill himself, his mother and his siblings multiple times.

She obviously loves her son, but in the essay says she no longer knows how to handle him and cope with his illness.

“I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me,” she writes. 

“A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan – they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to.

"I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me…”

While this might sound terrifying to those of us who have never been around special children, Liza’s essay shows that it perhaps evokes the same response among the parents of mentally ill – the only difference being that she doesn’t know how to cope with it anymore. 

Neither perhaps did Adam Lanza’s mother. Lanza been described as autistic, bright but disturbed, and mentally ill, among others, by those that knew him.

Liza’s blog says she still doesn’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 and counsellors and teachers and school administrators. He’s been on a slew of antipsychotic and mood altering pharmaceuticals, a Russian novel of behavioural plans. Nothing seems to work,” she writes.

Another incident that Liza’s blog post describes culminates into this: “Michael was in a full-blown fit by then, screaming and hitting. I hugged him close so he couldn’t escape from the car. He bit me several times and repeatedly jabbed his elbows into my rib cage. I’m still stronger than he is, but I won’t be for much longer.

“The police came quickly and carried my son screaming and kicking into the bowels of the hospital. I started to shake, and tears filled my eyes as I filled out the paperwork – “Were there any difficulties with....at what age did your child....were there any problems with...has your child ever experienced...does your child have....”

“At least we have health insurance now. I recently accepted a position with a local college, giving up my freelance career because when you have a kid like this, you need benefits. You’ll do anything for benefits. No individual insurance plan will cover this kind of thing.

“For days, my son insisted that I was lying – that I made the whole thing up so that I could get rid of him. The first day, when I called to check up on him, he said, “I hate you. And I’m going to get my revenge as soon as I get out of here.”

“By day three, he was my calm, sweet boy again, all apologies and promises to get better. I’ve heard those promises for years. I don’t believe them anymore.”

She goes on to say:  “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.”

Liza laments the US healthcare system and blames it for not acknowledging the gravity of the issue. “When I asked my son's social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”

Like any mother, perhaps also Adam Lanza's mother, Liza hates the thought of her son in jail. “I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology.

"But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise - in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 per cent) than in the non-incarcerated population.”

What is a mother to do in such a situation - she fears her son - and for her son.

“No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
“I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.
“God help me. God help Michael. God help us all," concludes Liza.

Responses to Liza’s blog have gone viral, with some chastising the Boise-based mom for dehumanising the mentally ill, who are statistically much more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators.

Among other things, one of the foremost critiques of her essay is that it presents Long’s son solely as a problem, that antipsychotic and antidepressant medications are not designed for children, and that Long criticizes the stigma against the mentally ill but also reinforces it by linking mental illness and violence.

Commenters have responded strongly to the piece, with some calling it judgmental or insensitive, while others praise it as a voice of reason.

What do you think? Should Michael and millions like him be jailed because they might, one day, end up doing what Adam Lanza did?

Or should there be  State-run institutes to help Michael and his mom so that they don't suffer the same fate as Adam and Nancy Lanza did?

Is it that simple in any case? Is there a solution to this complex problem?


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