After reading Andrew Solomon’s piece, Reckoning, an interview of Peter Lanza, I was left raw and sad. The father of Adam Lanza (the individual who shot children, teachers and killed his mother as well as himself in Newtown, Connecticut) Peter’s story is one that some have waited to hear, and others, well, have no desire to hear. There is so much about his story that is familiar. For those who have not walked alongside someone who has a mental illness, things may seem very cut and dry. We, as a society have a tendency toward blame, without looking to understand. This was a tragedy, and it is right to treat it as such. However, unless we look to understand how great a systematic failure we have in this country, I don’t believe it’s going to get better.
My oldest son’s diagnosis of Early Onset Schizophrenia did not come easily. I spent many of his early years reading, reading, reading literally everything I could get my hands on that might help me figure out what was going on. As I was homeschooling, I also was looking for clues as to how my son learned because it was so much different than my younger daughter. In those early years, I discovered many things and follow up testing confirmed much of what I knew. There were also some things revealed that I hadn’t really understood, that is to say, once they put a name to what might have been happening, I was able to understand it, but before, on my own, it just appeared to be, for lack of a better word, puzzling.
Here’s the thing, I was and always have been, proactive. Yet, my son went through so much I didn’t understand. He was violent in the home, he tried to jump out of a moving car, he was hallucinating, he became suicidal, he tried running away. We got “help” from psychologists that wasn’t helpful. We had neuropsychological testing and while some was helpful in getting him advanced treatment (and more correct treatment), it didn’t “fix” what was going on. But for constant pressing and pushing, I couldn’t have gotten him to his current psychiatrist that has done so much for us. Even having a psychiatrist that is highly intelligent, an expert at psychopharmacology, who also works at a mental health hospital where he sees kids like my son on a daily basis did not stop my son from having a psychotic break and trying to kill himself. Even with all of my interventions, all the therapy, the admission to the mental health hospital, it didn’t stop anything.
We are very fortunate because our son was able to be admitted to a second mental health hospital where he remained for 42 days consecutively while they did a med wash, and finally, our psychiatrist recommended that we take the last resort step; introducing Clozaril. This, and only this, has been the main game changer for my son. He is no longer suicidal. He hasn’t heard voices in a very long time. So, why am I saying all of this? This was supposed to be about the Lanza family. I feel for Peter Lanza because I see him as a victim also. I myself have felt helpless watching my son become someone I don’t know and don’t understand.
I believe there are a lot of families that could be the Lanza family. Mental health treatment in this country is abhorrent. Mental illness does not come with a manual. Adam Lanza was taken to doctors and psychiatrists, even prestigious ones. He was put on Lexapro, which is primarily for anxiety and depression. The recounting that Peter Lanza did regarding what I see clearly as a definite progression of illness is tragic. That better interventions and more support were not offered to the Lanza family is nothing short of awful.
If society is going to blame the parents of Adam Lanza for the tragedy that occurred, then I am going to go full out and blame the mental health system that society allows to continue in a static state. We are not taking seriously the lack of resources and support for mentally ill families, nor are we addressing stigma. Until we start to really begin to invest in wellness and care for mentally ill individuals and support for their families, tragedies of all types will continue to occur. We have a responsibility as a society to care for those who cannot care for themselves, without exclusion.