I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason 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.
This blog post caught my eye, as I, like so many parents this weekend, ponder the question “What is the appropriate response of me as an individual, and us as a country, to the tragic shooting of 20 children and 7 adults, followed by the shooter killing himself, leaving a total of 28 people dead in one morning, in one small town in Connecticut.”
For me, it comes on the heels of dealing, at long distance, with the challenge that my sister and I have faced for our entire lives, in one way or another, with the terrible lack of services for the mentally ill. I have been exploring options in my area of the country to move our mother here, while my sister has been dealing with the forced relocation of our mother from her previous residence, because, while it is difficult to find good residential care for the elderly, in general, finding appropriate and skilled care for an elderly person with severe mental illness is virtually impossible.
I also recently read January’s Child, a memoir by a father of a daughter with schizophrenia, and that book brought home for me again how hard it is to have a family member with mental illness (and the book also echoed the problem of finding services and psychiatrists or other mental health professionals with expertise in treating the very young or the very old).
I have been thinking a lot about how many of my patients in Baltimore have gun-shot incidents in their medical history – either because they were targets themselves (innocent or not, who cares), or they lost a child/brother/sister/parent/spouse to gun violence. The stories of violence suddenly emerging in otherwise peaceful places like Newtown CT, Aurora CO, Columbine CO, Blacksburg VA…these incidents shock us, they frighten us – those of us living in quiet suburbs where we believe on a day-to-day basis that our lives are sheltered from the chaos of the world “outside”. But that safety and security are a fiction. That point was made oh so clear to those of us attending the “Active Shooter Training” that I attended a week ago. Those who, like many of my patients, live with gunshots ricocheting off their apartment buildings, and who have first-hand knowledge of the devastation of guns on peoples lives – they deserve our compassion and sense of anger and injustice just as do the tiny, innocent victims of the shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut.
I don’t agree that it’s “easy to talk about guns”, as the Anarchist Soccer Mom in the above blogpost claims. We seem to have a lot of trouble with that conversation in this country. But, we don’t talk about mental illness easily either. On the one hand, we seem to have a pathologic attachment to the freedom to own any kind, and any number, of guns – on the other, we live in denial of the reality that a significant number of people living among us have a significant mental illness, and we have no provision for helping them live productively within our society; we would just as soon have them disappear. But they won’t. And we need to have a productive national conversation about both hard topics.