Tuesday, December 18, 2012
"I am Adam Lanza’s mother'
There's a popular blog post circulating pretty fast around from a mom who has a son with a pretty dangerous mental illness, not properly diagnosed. The message of the post seemed fairly positive, but I found myself taken aback by how she handles her kid, and then goes on to say that he could be the next massacre shooter without proper help.
Is it just me, or does this kind of thing seem inherently wrong? I watched the Child of Rage documentary, and if anyone was going to become a killer, it was that kid, but after some proper therapy and rehabilitation, she ended up pretty damn well-adjusted.
I know you've talked about the issue with labels in the past, and in light of these massacres and a new-found interest in mental health being the root issues of them, it just seems that treating a kid like an unpredictable prisoner is just wrong. I mean, if a child can't even turn to their family for support and understanding, then you've essentially isolated them mentally and emotionally. If they're that unstable, they're not going to have even friends to turn to. When the kid turns 18, he's going to cut loose, because the only people who could have helped him didn't. Considering the behavior she described, if someone doesn't find a way for him to adjust, he's going to go to prison sooner or later.
And this is exactly how they're treating people like sociopaths. Giving them a supposedly incurable mental disease label, and then just settling for locking them and throwing away the key. What life is that?
Speaking of which, currently in the States, 56% of prisoners have a diagnosed mental disorder. So much for the asylum...
I don't know if I have much of an opinion about the macro problem of mental illness. When I first read the blog post linked above I was sort of turned off for a lot of reasons, including the one the reader mentions. I thought about it for a little while, though, and re read it and realized that the mother is not really advocating anything in particular, so much as just wanting to add to (or open up) the conversation on mental illness.
The truth is that I don't really think that this can be addressed effectively on the macro level, but rather any truly effective solution/treatment, at least for children, will be better parenting or people in substitute parenting roles. It reminds me of this selection from the NY Magazine article on autism mentioned yesterday: “A lot of kids are just delayed in development, slow to talk, or anxious, or hyperactive, and a lot of kids are just terribly parented. . . . We see a lot of diagnosis-of-childhood kids, whose parents have never set limits, plus kids who are temperamentally difficult to raise."
That is not to say that parents of severely disturbed children have necessarily done anything "wrong." But I do believe in the plasticity of the child's mind and that there are ways to improve any child's behavior if one thinks creatively enough about it. This is also not to say that every parent is capable of parenting a child with these particular special needs. To the extent a label helps the helpless parent, I can see that possibly being a positive in the child's life. But to the extent that applying labels limits their/our beliefs about whether a child is redeemable or not, then yes, I believe that "labels for life" are counterproductive.
On the micro level, I feel like the biggest opportunity for children, particularly for those who are damaged but not quite mentally ill, is for them to feel a paradigm shift in their own concept of self. Like the girl in Child of Rage who was taught to believe that "when I hurt other people I'm hurting my good self." Maybe I'll write more on that later.