My Statement to the U.S House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce
On December 14, 2012, two days after I placed my 13-year old son in an acute care mental health hospital, the world changed. The night of the Sandy Hook shootings, I wrote a blog post entitled, “Thinking the Unthinkable,” which included the shocking statement: “I am Adam Lanza’s mother.”
I’m not Adam Lanza’s mother. I’m Michael’s mother. I love my son. But he—and I—and other parents and children like us—need help. Like many children with mental disorders, my son has been diagnosed with several conditions. Michael has taken a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals to try to control his rages. We have not yet found a combination of treatments and medications to manage his condition.
When I asked Michael what he wanted me to say to you, he said, “Tell them I’m not a bad kid. Tell them I want to be well.”
Michael is not a bad kid. Neither are the millions of other children who have diagnosed mental disorders in this country. And yet we continue to manage mental illness through the criminal justice system. Too often, the only way loving parents can get access to much-needed services is by having their children charged with a crime.
My son Michael entered the juvenile justice system just one month after his eleventh birthday. While on probation, he received an array of social services including therapy and psychosocial rehabilitation, which taught him coping strategies. But once he completed probation, those services went away.
Before my blog went viral, I thought I was the only mother in America who was living in this kind of fear. But I learned I’m far from alone.
Parents like me live in all kinds of fear. We live in fear of stigma—will my child be bullied for being different? Will my child be a bully? Will I be blamed for my child’s explosive behavior?
We live in fear of that unpredictable behavior—how will I know if my child is going to explode? What can I do to keep my other children and myself safe? What about his school and the community?
We live in fear of the future—what will happen when my child turns 18? Will my child harm himself or others? How will I pay for all the services I need to keep my child functioning?
Parents like me are struggling, physically, emotionally, and financially. And mental illness is still so hard to talk about, because the stigma—for parents and children—is real. But as long as parents continue to suffer in silence, the magnitude of this problem will only be recognized after tragedies like Newtown. It’s time to talk about mental illness—and it’s time to act.
What do parents like me need from you? We need access to community-based resources. We need early and consistent behavioral intervention. We need increased funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as funding for school counselors and behavioral interventionists. We need increased research funding for effective treatments. And most of all, we need a national commitment to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. As long as we keep treating mentally ill children—and adults—in prisons, it will be difficult for us to achieve true parity between physical and mental health.
Mental health is truly a bipartisan issue—a problem that keeps millions of American children and their families from enjoying “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” As a nation, we must explore creative and brave ways to provide a better life for children, families, and communities.
Link to the U.S House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Forum: "After Newtown: A National Conversation on Violence and Severe Mental Illness."
Link to National Institute of Mental Health om Children's Mental Illness
Link to author, parent, and fellow panelist Pete Earley.