The Coast News Group
Liza Long, author of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” speaks as part of a behavioral health panel on Jan. 29 in San Diego. Photo by Rachel Stine
Liza Long, author of “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” speaks as part of a behavioral health panel on Jan. 29 in San Diego. Photo by Rachel Stine
Rancho Santa Fe Lead Story

Panel strives to spark discussion on mental illness

REGION — “This problem is too big for me to handle on my own. Sometimes there are no good options. So you just pray for grace and trust that in hindsight, it will all make sense.”

Reading from her now viral blog post, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” Liza Long took a deep breath to control her shaking voice before continuing.

“I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. 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.”

Long wrote these words in the wake of the murder of 20 children and six adults by Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.

She is not in fact Lanza’s mother. Rather, her blog post details her experiences caring for her son who does have a mental illness and is at times violent.

Long incorporated the quote while speaking in front of more than 200 people at a behavioral health panel sponsored by Jewish Family Services at San Diego’s Congregation Beth Israel on Jan. 29.

She said that the wave of public comment on her piece made her decide to speak out rather than hide her reality that she sometimes is afraid of the child she loves so much.

“If we can’t talk about (mental illness), how can we solve it?” she asked the crowd.

Long was joined by Alfredo Aguirre, LCSW, MSW, director of Behavioral Health Services County of San Diego.

Together the two provided both a personal and informative perspective about the challenges of caring for someone with mental illness and accessing treatment.

Aguirre highlighted the county’s recently expanded IHOT (In Home Outreach Team) among other programs offered in the region.

IHOT consists of three mobile teams that provide outreach to adults with mental illness who are resistant to treatment in their homes.

He expressed that often the biggest challenge for mental health services in the county is reaching out to people with serious mental illness who do not want to participate in treatment.

“No matter how well-resourced your system is, no matter what options you have, public and private, that sometimes people just don’t connect,” he said.

Both Long and Aguirre emphasized the importance of eliminating the stigma of mental illness to instead support members of the community to seek treatment.

Long said that even after her piece received millions of views online, much of her community failed to offer her and her family support.

She said that unlike when other children have a serious physical ailment, “When your child has a mental illness and is in the hospital, people don’t want to make you casserole.”

Though she did highlight that thanks to the attention garnered by her post, her son has received better medical care and because of that has at last has been given an official diagnosis and medication that works. She said today he is doing well in school and is participating in lessons two mainstream classrooms, something she never thought would be possible.

The gathering also featured a resource fair of mental health services available throughout San Diego County, including 2-1-1 San Diego, Aging and Independence Services, Depression Bipolar Support Alliance, and Mental Health America.