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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Mother Lives in Fear that Her Son Will Become Like Adam Lanza

In the wake of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT, where innocent children and adults were shot to death in an elementary school, most of the talk, including my recent blog post, has been on gun control.  While  this is a very important discussion, we also need to focus on the inadequacies of the mental health system where people with mental illness are not being adequately served.  

We Need to Do More to Help People with Mental Illness 
A Mother's Worst Fear:  "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" 
I recently read an excellent  article by writer, Liza Long in the Huff Post Parents column called, "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother - A Mom's Perspective on the Mental Illness Conversation in America" (originally published in the Blue Review:  The Blue Review).

Ms. Long, who describes herself as a single mom who lives in Boise, Idaho, discusses her struggles with her 13 year old son, Michael (not his real name) and a mental health system that is woefully inadequate for children and adults suffering with mental illness.  According to Ms. Long, Michael, who is an intelligent and often sweet boy, also exhibits odd and threatening behavior at times.  She says that his threatening behavior, which includes threats to harm her and himself, has resulted in a slew of mental health diagnoses, including Autism Spectrum, ADHD, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, and many different psychotropic medications.  It appears that he has been difficult to diagnose.  When he gets out of control, according to Ms. Long, he has been psychiatrically hospitalized and stabilized for a while--until his next episode.

When he becomes violent, Ms. Long says, she's still strong enough to hold him close so he can't harm her or her other children, but she lives in fear for the day when she is no longer stronger than him.  What will happen when he can over power her?   She also lives in fear that Michael will turn out to be like Adam Lanza when he gets older, and her cries for help are not being addressed by a mental health system that is often inadequate to meet the needs of children and adults with mental illness and their families.

As of this writing, there's still a lot we don't know about Adam Lanza, who allegedly shot the children and staff in CT.  It's easy to demonize him as "crazy" or dismiss him as "some nut" that became violent.  This is a common reaction to tragic events like the Newtown tragedy.  All of us want to try to make sense of this senseless act, and it's easier to dismiss Adam Lanza as being "a nut" rather than seeing him as a complex individual.

It's also hard to come to grips with the fact that there are other people who are emotionally unstable who aren't getting the help that they need, creating the possibility for future incidents like the one in Newtown, CT.  We don't want to think about it because it's too scary.

Before I go on, it's important to emphasize that the vast majority of people who have a mental illness aren't violent or dangerous.  This is a common misperception.
At this point, most of us are focused on the victims of the Newtown tragedy, including their families, and rightfully so.  It's hard to imagine how these families are coping with their profound loss.  They deserve our empathy and emotional support.

Focusing on Children and Adults Falling Through the Cracks of Mental Health System
At some point soon, we also need to focus on children and adults with emotional problems who are falling through the cracks of our mental health system.  This isn't anything new.  It's been a problem for a very long time.  In her blog post, Ms. Long says she has been asking for help for her son for a long time, but the mental health system that's available to her son, who vacillates from being a kind, loving and intelligent boy to a violent, scary child, isn't addressing his and her needs.  She fears that due to the inadequacy of the mental health system, the only option for her son, if he continues on this path, will be prison.  This isn't what any loving parent wants for his or her child.

As heart breaking as it is to hear the stories of the families who lost children in Newtown, it's just as heart breaking to hear Ms. Long's story.  She writes that she took a job with a college in order to get health benefits because individual health plans, which are prohibitively expensive, won't cover the kind of care that Michael needs.  This is a problem for many individuals and families, and Obama Care, although a step in the right direction, won't help everyone.  There will still be many people who will fall between the cracks of the new system.  This is a systemic problem that isn't being addressed with the potential for tragic consequences.

We Need to Do a Better Job of Providing Mental Health Treatment to Individuals and Families
As a society, we need to do a better job of providing mental health care for individuals and families.  Yes, it will be expensive and challenging to accomplish. I don't have the answers to this problem, but I'm concerned that we've become a society too focused on dollars and cents rather than prioritizing the health care needs of our citizens.  There are children, adults and their families who have special needs and if we can't provide for those needs, what does this say about us as individuals and as a country?

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

Also see my blog article:  Trying to Understand a Senseless Tragedy

Photo credit: Mitya Kuznetsov via photopin cc

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