Here we are again: tragedy, then hand-wringing over mental health ...

  • Blog Post by: Jeremy Olson
  • December 17, 2012 - 11:27 AM

The "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" column should be required reading for community leaders trying to understand how a tragedy like the Sandy Hook killings could have happened and how to prevent future massacres. The column is by a mother in Idaho who fears her mentally ill young boy and worries about a treatment system that seems to be pushing him toward violence and incarceration in order to obtain comprehensive mental health care.

It's one of the most succinct, honest tellings of a refrain you've probably heard before -- that the U.S. mental health system is failing many children with sad and sometimes dangerous consequences. Last year, Kathy Swanson detailed the many ways that the mental health system failed her son, Michael, before he eventually stole his parents car, drove to Iowa, and killed two convenience store clerks at random on Nov. 15, 2010.

"He should have been in a mental health facility when this whole thing happened," Kathy Swanson said in the article. "It just makes me sick."

One of the things that startled me in the Idaho mother's column is the abundance of source material at her disposal.

"I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother," she wrote. "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 Columbine school sheeting. The Aurora theater shooting. The Tucson shooting that killed six and injured a congresswoman. The Virginia Tech shooting.

The mother didn't even need to mention the example of Swanson and the convenience store killings. Or the Red Lake high school shootings in 2005. Or the Omaha mall shootings in 2007. Or the Northern Illinois college campus shootings in 2008. But all of those tragedies also involved young male killers for whom medication and mental health treatment had either been inadequate or had failed.

"It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health," the mother wrote. "That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal."

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