'I am Adam Lanza's mother': Another mom's cry for help

Liza Long
Liza LongNBC News

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By Maggie Fox

What is it like to live in fear that your child might hurt someone -- you, himself, or someone else?

No one can imagine what it must have felt like to be Adam Lanza’s mom, Nancy, who was among his 27 victims, or what his father is feeling right now. But Liza Long is afraid she has an inkling. In a powerful essay that's being shared across the internet, the Boise, Idaho, mom of four poured out her worries about her bright but disturbed teenage son.

"Every time I hear about a mass shooting, I think about my son. And I wonder if someday, I'll be that mom," Long told NBC News in an exclusive interview.

There’s lots of speculation about whether Adam Lanza had some sort of mental health issue, but no firm facts yet. What is clear is that there are other agonized parents out there, trying to protect their children and, just sometimes, trying to protect the world from their children.

Written after Lanza shot 20 children and six adults to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday, Long's essay, first published on her own mom blog, has struck a chord, and it’s been picked up by dozens of other blogs.

Long writes:

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

A few weeks ago, Michael (not his real name) 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....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.

Locking up a 13-year-old can’t be the answer, she continues. But what is? Long writes:

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.

The vast majority of people with mental illness will never commit a crime and never hurt another person. But for some parents, Long's fears and frustrations are far too relatable.

"I am moved to tears because this is my story, too," one mother wrote on Long's blog, which has received more than 2,000 comments. "My son has threatened to kill me and commit suicide. He has waved knives and threatened to jump off the roof.... My greatest fear is that he will do something like a mass shooting or some other public violent act. I am screaming tor help and it is as if there is no one to hear it."

Psychiatrist and TODAY contributor Gail Saltz told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie that Long's blog post points to a much larger problem. "Mental health care in America is not prioritized enough. It's really at the bottom of the barrel," Saltz said Monday on TODAY. "People are really often left to flounder, and we really as country need to focus on this because many children do have mental illness."

Guthrie noted that even when parents or relatives of adults with mental illness know there's a problem and try to get help, they're often unable to find any treatment options. "Many families are just sitting there waiting for something awful to happen," Guthrie said.

Andrew Solomon, author of "Far From the Tree," a book about parents dealing with children with exceptional conditions ranging from disabilities to mental illness to prodigal talents, told TODAY that people always look to the parents for answers in cases like Lanza's.

"We think if we understand the family we'll know why it happened. But these illnesses strike as randomly as cancer or any other illness," Solomon told TODAY. "Sometimes the parents know and they can't do anything, and sometimes the kids are very secretive. We don't know yet which it is."

Just as Nancy Lanza, who was shot to death in her home at the start of her son's deadly rampage, has been criticized, many commenters are quick to judge and condemn Long for parenting sins. Blogger Sarah Kendzior accused Long of being "cruel," saying she "fantasizes about beating" her children -- based on a two-year-old blog post in which Long, in the context of a rant about various parenting frustrations, jokes that her 7-year-old's "I love to fart on you" song makes her want to throttle him.

But many more were sympathetic and grateful to Long for her honesty.

Jennifer Steele Christensen wrote on Long's blog, "Thank you for having the courage to share your life with us in this way. I can't even come up with the right words to express how much empathy I feel for you. I agree with you absolutely that it's time for a candid, raw conversation about mental health. I pray that God does help you. And your son."

Others worried about the speculation surrounding Lanza. “My grave concern here is that, while it's absolutely true that this country needs to deal with mental illness better, that bringing it up at a time like this, especially when there's such a tenuous connection, will simply serve to reinforce the suspicion and stigmatization of people with mental illness,” someone signing the name “Chillas” writes on Snopes.com.

Mental health experts agree that terrible stigma still prevents honest discussion of psychiatric disorders. The comments on Long's blog post suggesting she just needs to give her son a good smack show many Americans still don’t understand the many, many studies that show spanking or beating children doesn’t help kids learn discipline – let alone kids with underlying psychological problems.

The 2010 health reform law requires insurers to pay for mental health care in just the same way they pay for other medical care. But what will it take for people to stop automatically blaming parents for their children’s mental health disorders? And what’s the best way to help parents like the author of this essay, who recognize there’s something wrong and want to work to get their children better?

“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,” Long concludes.

“God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.”

Read the full essay here: http://anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com/