December 18, 2012
(USA TODAY) -- An online confession from the overwhelmed mother of a mentally troubled teenager -- titled "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" -- has become an instant Internet sensation, spurring discussion about the needs of families of mentally ill patients.
But the blog post, which spread virally to hundreds of thousands of readers, also has sparked stinging criticism of its author, Liza Long, for exposing her 13-year-old son's private struggles.
"I live with a son who is mentally ill," Long wrote Friday, the day of the shootings, although she did not use his real name. "I love my son. But he terrifies me."
In her essay, Long presumes that Lanza, who shot his mother at home and then 26 people, most of them children, at an elementary school Friday in Newtown, Conn., suffered from a mental disorder. Police have not yet released any details about Lanza's physical or mental health.
Long is part of a growing chorus of voices seeking to strengthen the country's mental-health care system, which many describe as broken.
Listing the names of perpetrators of mass murders at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and a Tucson gathering for former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Long writes: "I am Dylan Klebold's and Eric Harris's mother ... I am Jared Loughner's mother ... 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 health."
The families of mentally ill patients face heavy burdens -- and can be the most vulnerable to harm, says Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. That's partly because a mentally ill person has more contact with family than anyone else.
Most people with mental illness are not violent, Gold notes. They are far more likely to harm themselves or be injured by others who prey on them. When a psychotic person becomes violent, "the most likely one to be killed is his mother," Gold says. "She's the only one who never walked away."
Long's essay, originally published on her blog, the Anarchist Soccer Mom, also has been published on Gawker.com, The Blue Review and The Huffington Post, where more than 10,000 readers left comments.
The blog is "all over the Internet" and becoming a key part of the national dialogue after the shootings, says Bob Carolla, spokesman for the National Alliance for Mental Illness. "It speaks to the experience of many families, expressing both their deepest fears and frustration over not being able to get the help they need."
But not everyone approves.
Another blogger, Sarah Kendzior, attacked Long, suggesting that she was trying to "capitalize on the Newtown tragedy." Kendzior notes that Long's earlier blog posts were filled with "vindictive and cruel posts about her children." She also took Long to task for violating her 13-year-old's privacy.
In written comments, readers have been divided over which mother to support. Some support Long, noting that she uses sarcasm and exaggeration for comic relief.
On Monday, the two women released a joint statement, appearing to make peace and agreeing on the "the need for a respectful national conversation on mental health."
Copyright 2012 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.