Sandy Hook and Mental Illness: No Easy Answers

The intense grief we feel for the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, has ignited, or re-ignited, two of our great national debates: the obvious one about gun control, and a less obvious one about the nature and treatment of mental illness.

(Photo credit: DON EMMERT /AFP/Getty Images)

As yet we do not know the exact nature of the illness affecting Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of this horrible crime. We do not know what efforts were made at evaluation or treatment. Nevertheless, the debate is on.

In our 24-hour-news-cycle world, even backlashes have backlashes. One of the first to enter the fray was Liza Long, with this essay entitled I am Adam Lanza’ mother detailing her struggles with her mentally ill 13-year-old son. If you are, as I am, the mother of a special needs child, it is impossible to read Long’s story without emotion.

And the backlash to Long’s story confirmed some of our worst fears, with a distinct air of “blame the mommy” about it.

Parents of special needs children are understandably worried that the school shooting will exacerbate the fear and suspicion already directed at children with autism or other mental illnesses.

This, even though medical experts discount any connection between autism and planned violence.

For some of us, it is an abstract debate over national mental health policy. For others, including myself, it’s much more personal.