I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.Number one, I personally would put police officers in schools.
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.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
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."
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 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population.
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation's largest treatment centers in 2011.
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.
I am Adam Lanza's Mother by Liza Long
Number two, I have no idea whether some form of gun control -- or ammunition control -- would prevent mass killings, or at least reduce the carnage. (I've always been intrigued by Pat Moynihan's scheme to impose a 10,000% tax on ammunition.)
But number three, the mental health system, to the extent that we can be said to have a mental health system, is not working, and I'm grateful to Gawker for publishing this mother's account.
For parents like me, who have children with classic developmental disabilities, there is a pretty well-developed system in place. Obviously, that system has its problems in the form of abusive aides and very low funding, but that's not the issue here. The system exists, and the assumptions that undergird it are rational, at least in my experience.
The situation is radically different for children and adults with mental illnesses -- or, even worse -- dual diagnoses, which is what I'm going to guess we're talking about with Adam Lanza. Individuals with dual diagnoses are a very challenging population.
Speaking of ---- we're just back from the Christmas party at Jimmy's group home. The head of the house is leaving to work with women aged 40 to 60 who have dual diagnoses.
As he put it: These are people who are independent enough to go out in the community on their own, but not make good decisions.
Here is E. Fuller Torrey:
A Predictable Tragedy in Arizona