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Old 12-16-2012, 08:11 PM  
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I'm Adam Lanza's mother. It’s time for a meaningful conversation about mental illness

This is all over the internet and emailed back and forth. But, maybe you have missed it and its a must read.

Written by Liza Long, republished from The Blue Review

Friday’s horrific national tragedy -- the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut -- has ignited a new discussion on violence in America. In kitchens and coffee shops across the country, we tearfully debate the many faces of violence in America: gun culture, media violence, lack of mental health services, overt and covert wars abroad, religion, politics and the way we raise our children. Liza Long, a writer based in Boise, says it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.

While every family's story of mental illness is different, and we may never know the whole of the Lanza's story, tales like this one need to be heard -- and families who live them deserve our help.

Three days before 20 year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants.

“I can wear these pants,” he said, his tone increasingly belligerent, the black-hole pupils of his eyes swallowing the blue irises.

“They are navy blue,” I told him. “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only.”

“They told me I could wear these,” he insisted. “You’re a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!”

“You can’t wear whatever pants you want to,” I said, my tone affable, reasonable. “And you definitely cannot call me a stupid bitch. You’re grounded from electronics for the rest of the day. Now get in the car, and I will take you to school.”

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

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.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

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 and 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.

At the start of seventh grade, Michael was accepted to an accelerated program for highly gifted math and science students. His IQ is off the charts. When he’s in a good mood, he will gladly bend your ear on subjects ranging from Greek mythology to the differences between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics to Doctor Who. He’s in a good mood most of the time. But when he’s not, watch out. And it’s impossible to predict what will set him off.

Several weeks into his new junior high school, Michael began exhibiting increasingly odd and threatening behaviors at school. We decided to transfer him to the district’s most restrictive behavioral program, a contained school environment where children who can’t function in normal classrooms can access their right to free public babysitting from 7:30-1:50 Monday through Friday until they turn 18.

The morning of the pants incident, Michael continued to argue with me on the drive. He would occasionally apologize and seem remorseful. Right before we turned into his school parking lot, he said, “Look, Mom, I’m really sorry. Can I have video games back today?”

“No way,” I told him. “You cannot act the way you acted this morning and think you can get your electronic privileges back that quickly.”

His face turned cold, and his eyes were full of calculated rage. “Then I’m going to kill myself,” he said. “I’m going to jump out of this car right now and kill myself.”

That was it. After the knife incident, I told him that if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital, no ifs, ands, or buts. I did not respond, except to pull the car into the opposite lane, turning left instead of right.
“Where are you taking me?” he said, suddenly worried. “Where are we going?”

“You know where we are going,” I replied.

“No! You can’t do that to me! You’re sending me to hell! You’re sending me straight to hell!”

I pulled up in front of the hospital, frantically waiving for one of the clinicians who happened to be standing outside. “Call the police,” I said. “Hurry.”

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.

On the intake form, under the question, “What are your expectations for treatment?” I wrote, “I need help.”

And I do. This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.

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.

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. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:09 PM   #46
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Don't get me wrong, not every shooter is an evil psychopath. Someone who is depressed may be a suicide risk. In extreme cases, they may be a family murder-suicide risk, thinking they are doing them a favor taking them out of this cruel world. Someone like Jared Loughner, a schizophrenic, doesn't really know what they are doing. Someone who is prone to anger may lash out. All of that can sometimes be treated.

Psychopaths are not curable. They are intelligent and know exactly what they are doing, they simply lack a conscience and don't have the slightest bit of empathy for others. They can learn to be charming and fake empathy when its to their advantage, which can make identifying them tough until after the fact. Greedy psychopaths can be immoral white-collar SOB's like Madoff who try to steal money and don't care if they run charities into the ground. Lazy psychopaths make themselves look pathetic and can become extreme moochers, able-bodied but doing everything possible to live off other people's sympathy. Angry or violent psychopaths can become serial killers or spree killers.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:11 PM   #47
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Originally Posted by alnorth View Post
Its not that simple. Sometimes, kids are simply born psychopaths, defective from the womb, and there's nothing anyone can do about it.

The Columbine killers are actually a good example of this, the parents knew the kids were crazy, and they did every single thing you'd ever expect them to do. Treatment and attention early, lots and lots of therapy, etc.

Unfortunately, and no one knew this at the time, the kids were psychopaths. There was nothing wrong with how they were raised, they were just born that way. Born evil. The only thing they learned in therapy, was how to behave to make everyone believe they were well. They carefully kept up that facade until it was time to shoot up the joint. A lot of people condemned those Columbine parents, but after the investigation was over, the police and investigators were very sympathetic with their plight.
I don't know any specifics about them. But don't discount the importance of support systems as well. I imagine those kids didn't have good support systems outside of the home.

And it's never simple in mental health, hence my overly simplified qualifier. And lots and lots of therapy/treatment/attention is not always a good thing.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:11 PM   #48
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No, it doesn't.

She knows her child is mentally ill but doctors haven't been able to confirm what he's suffering from, whether it autism, Asperger's, etc.

She KNOWS. That's far different from a psycho or sociopath.
He certainly could be a sociopath, not sure why you'd rule that out.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:12 PM   #49
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I like the content, but hated the title.
Not that I love the title, but I doubt you'd be reading it otherwise.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:13 PM   #50
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He certainly could be a sociopath, not sure why you'd rule that out.
Because if he's autistic, has Asperger's, etc. he's missing chromosomes, which has priority over being sociopathic.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:18 PM   #51
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Because if he's autistic, has Asperger's, etc. he's missing chromosomes, which has priority over being sociopathic.
Oh absolutely, if they can definitively diagnose him, great. If he's not on the autism spectrum though (or they incorrectly guess he is), this kid sounds like he could be a sociopath who is too young to have learned how to play the game of pretending he empathizes with people and convincing them he isn't an unfeeling monster.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:22 PM   #52
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So, not reading all the thread, but say he is a sociopath, then what do you do with him?


He damn sure shouldn't be allowed to reproduce.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:22 PM   #53
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every sociopath is not a monster.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:28 PM   #54
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So, not reading all the thread, but say he is a sociopath, then what do you do with him?


He damn sure shouldn't be allowed to reproduce.
The problem is that its very, very difficult to tell if someone is a sociopath until they do something that obviously paints them as such.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:28 PM   #55
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Originally Posted by alnorth View Post
Don't get me wrong, not every shooter is an evil psychopath. Someone who is depressed may be a suicide risk. In extreme cases, they may be a family murder-suicide risk, thinking they are doing them a favor taking them out of this cruel world. Someone like Jared Loughner, a schizophrenic, doesn't really know what they are doing. Someone who is prone to anger may lash out. All of that can sometimes be treated.

Psychopaths are not curable. They are intelligent and know exactly what they are doing, they simply lack a conscience and don't have the slightest bit of empathy for others. They can learn to be charming and fake empathy when its to their advantage, which can make identifying them tough until after the fact. Greedy psychopaths can be immoral white-collar SOB's like Madoff who try to steal money and don't care if they run charities into the ground. Lazy psychopaths make themselves look pathetic and can become extreme moochers, able-bodied but doing everything possible to live off other people's sympathy. Angry or violent psychopaths can become serial killers or spree killers.
There is no such thing as a psychopath in the sense the public uses the term. There is no diagnosis for it. People with the characteristics you describe are best classified as having personality disorders. Anti social being one of the more common which is characterized by the lack of empathy, care, and emotions towards others.

Personality disorders basically have a lifetime prevalence so in that since "psychopaths" are not curable but I still disagree people are born with them. Abuse, other traumatic experiences, poor parenting, inherent lack of social skills are all potential contributing factors as are the genetic predispositions people can have to them. Just like some people are more prone to being full blown alcoholics given the same circumstances as non alcoholics, the same happens in psychology. Perhaps in very rare cases they are just simply born that way though. There are never any absolutes which is what makes mental health so difficult.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:32 PM   #56
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every sociopath is not a monster.
Yeah, actually they are. Every sociopath, true, real, honest to god sociopaths, are monsters who should be avoided. Most are not violent, because that would be a severe roadblock to their goals. (most people don't want to go to jail, unless you have a fascination with killing people, and THAT is what makes you happy)

I'm not talking about people who have less empathy than others, or people with asperger's who are just socially awkward. I'm talking zero empathy. If you are a sociopath, then that means you view life as one great big grand game to win where every living creature and person is either an opponent or a pawn to defeat or exploit in your pursuit of whatever makes you happy, without regard to anyone's feelings. Unless making someone unhappy would make it more difficult to get what you want.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:34 PM   #57
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Originally Posted by mr. tegu View Post
There is no such thing as a psychopath in the sense the public uses the term. There is no diagnosis for it. People with the characteristics you describe are best classified as having personality disorders. Anti social being one of the more common which is characterized by the lack of empathy, care, and emotions towards others.

Personality disorders basically have a lifetime prevalence so in that since "psychopaths" are not curable but I still disagree people are born with them. Abuse, other traumatic experiences, poor parenting, inherent lack of social skills are all potential contributing factors as are the genetic predispositions people can have to them. Just like some people are more prone to being full blown alcoholics given the same circumstances as non alcoholics, the same happens in psychology. Perhaps in very rare cases they are just simply born that way though. There are never any absolutes which is what makes mental health so difficult.
Nurture CAN be a part of it (russian orphans), but its not all nurture.

People can be born with defective brains that lead to a sociopath.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:38 PM   #58
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Oh absolutely, if they can definitively diagnose him, great. If he's not on the autism spectrum though (or they incorrectly guess he is), this kid sounds like he could be a sociopath who is too young to have learned how to play the game of pretending he empathizes with people and convincing them he isn't an unfeeling monster.
If they can't diagnose him with those disorders, he probably doesn't have it. The criteria are pretty specific and established. But obviously the criteria are not perfect and are always changing. My guess is there are pieces there, just not enough to ever warrant the full diagnosis. Unfortunately the pieces that are present are more than capable of contributing to the development of other issues as he grows older.

And interesting enough starting in 2013 with the release of the new DSM, there will no longer be a separate diagnosis of Aspergers. It will all be rated on a scale of severity on the autism spectrum.
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Old 12-16-2012, 10:46 PM   #59
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Originally Posted by alnorth View Post
Nurture CAN be a part of it (russian orphans), but its not all nurture.

People can be born with defective brains that lead to a sociopath.
Can you define sociopath in a manner separate from antisocial personality disorder? Borderline personality disorder? Because i don't think so. You will be defining established personality disorders.

Also, I said a few times already it's not all nurture so I don't disagree with that. I think we agree but are just defining it differently. You say born with defective brains that lead to sociopath, I say genetic predisposition leading to anti social personality disorder.
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Old 12-16-2012, 11:15 PM   #60
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A huge portion of the problem is the way the resources are squandered. The second is the focus of the medical field.
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