The Anarchist Soccer Mom writes about her 13 year old son:
I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.
A few weeks ago, Michael 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.
I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason 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.
According to Mother Jones, since 1982, 61 mass murders involving firearms have occurred throughout the country. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). Of these, 43 of the killers were white males, and only one was a woman. Mother Jones focused on whether the killers obtained their guns legally (most did). But this highly visible sign of mental illness should lead us to consider how many people in the U.S. live in fear, like I do.
When I asked my son’s social worker about my options, he said that the only thing I could do was to get Michael charged with a crime. “If he’s back in the system, they’ll create a paper trail,” he said. “That’s the only way you’re ever going to get anything done. No one will pay attention to you unless you’ve got charges.”
I don’t believe my son belongs in jail. The chaotic environment exacerbates Michael’s sensitivity to sensory stimuli and doesn’t deal with the underlying pathology. But it seems like the United States is using prison as the solution of choice for mentally ill people. According to Human Rights Watch, the number of mentally ill inmates in U.S. prisons quadrupled from 2000 to 2006, and it continues to rise—in fact, the rate of inmate mental illness is five times greater (56 percent) than in the non-incarcerated population. (http://www.hrw.org/news/2006/09/05/us-number-mentally-ill-prisons-quadrupled)
With state-run treatment centers and hospitals shuttered, prison is now the last resort for the mentally ill—Rikers Island, the LA County Jail, and Cook County Jail in Illinois housed the nation’s largest treatment centers in 2011 (http://www.npr.org/2011/09/04/140167676/nations-jails-struggle-with-mentally-ill-prisoners)
No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
My guess is this woman’s problems are gonna get worse until they get better. The system holds parents legally and financially responsible for their children’s behavior. She knows her son needs help, she wants to get him help, but they want to treat him like a discipline problem and punish him. Meanwhile she has a job and two younger kids to care for. (She can forget about a social life.)
If he gets treatment they will expect her to pay for it. If he gets in trouble and ends up in custody or foster care, they will bill her for his food and lodging.
Then when he turns eighteen they will change the rules. They will quit holding her responsible and will start treating him alternately like an adult and, a criminal and an incompetent ward of the state. She won’t have any rights but the government will pressure her to participate in his care.
This is not a case of someone “falling through the cracks”. This is how our fucked-up system works. We aren’t just failing him, we’re failing her too. Sadly, this situation is far too common. Unless we are one of the unlucky family members we usually only get a peek into this Kafkaesque nightmare when some mentally ill person does something horrific.
If you think the government should “do something” to prevent tragedies like the one on Friday, here’s a good place to start. But it won’t be simple, easy or cheap.
BTW – I know more about the system than I want to know. Mentally ill juveniles and adults get represented by public defenders.