We Are All Adam Lanza’s Mother (& other things we’re not talking about)

Jennifer Maurer
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Friday’s sudden loss of 20 young lives along with six of their caregivers was beyond horrific. It was not, unfortunately, without precedent.

Sandy Hook’s precious children and teachers are the most recent casualties in a long line of school shootings.

As a society, we are a forgetful bunch. We seem to be able to ignore the suffering in our communities until the suffering hits home—many homes at once—in the form of unspeakable losses that we can no longer ignore.

Then we grieve. And we discuss. Except for those of us who are struck dumb by the devastating losses of loved ones who will never speak again.

NewtownAngels

But the rest of us have conversations. About violence. About gun control. About mental illness. About mental health care (and/or the lack thereof). About the causes of violence. About the victims of violence. About the perpetrators of violence.

We make a lot of noise. Almost enough noise to drown out the deafening silence of all those empty desks.

In times like these, when the grief and horror are fresh, we have so many conversations. Except for some of the most important ones: the ones about what it means to suffer. And how we perpetuate suffering. And what it takes to truly heal.

No one wants to see his or her child suffer. It is unbearable. It often hard to tell who is suffering more: the parent or child. This is an important question to ask. And to answer.

But sometimes, in our effort to stop the suffering, we inadvertently create more of it. In an effort to prevent violence to self and others, we perpetuate it.

We are talking a lot right now, but we don’t seem to be talking about that.

I do not understand how we can continue to avoid the conversation about psychiatric medications and their role in the violence that is affecting far too many of our children, whether Seung-Hui Cho, Eric Harris, Kip Kinkel, or Jeff Weise (all of whom were either taking or withdrawing from psychotropic medications) or the scores of children and adults they have killed and harmed.

It is not clear what role medications played in the Newtown tragedy, though news reports are now suggesting there is one.

Once again, we find ourselves having a national conversation about why this keeps happening.

As a mother of two adolescent children, in the light of these and other tragedies, when we talk about “mental health,” I want to be sure this conversation includes a discussion of whether or not it is safe to use psychiatric medications – including stimulants, SSRIs, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics – with children.

If we don’t have this conversation, then we are all Adam Lanza’s mother.

To my knowledge, very few of these medications have been tested or proven safe for use in children, particularly in the combinations and dosages in which they are often prescribed.

And what should we make of the FDA-mandated labels and warp-speed disclaimers on TV commercials that note increased risks of suicidality, aggression and psychosis among a long, long list of other potential side effects?

That might be something to talk about.

Why aren’t these disturbing side effects part of the current national conversation about violence and gun control and mental illness? And where is the conversation about mental health, healing and hope? About finding our way home?

There is so much we don’t know about our children’s emotional growth and brain development and the impact of labeling and medicating our children’s suffering.

Perhaps It bears repeating:

No one wants to see his or her child suffer. It is unbearable. It often hard to tell who is suffering more: the parent or child. This is an important question to ask. And to answer.

More than a year ago, I read Robert Whitaker’s book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, and the body of research that throws into question the validity of biochemical imbalance theories and the safety and efficacy of our current medication-focused, disease-based approach to treating emotional distress.

Shortly after reading this disturbing book, I attended a Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care symposium on children’s mental health and was fortunate to be able to join and help lead the development of the Mother Bear Family Mental Health Network.

Mother Bear is a family-led organization that educates and supports families about the many causes of emotional distress, the many pathways to recovery, and the need to make informed, careful decisions about medications, particularly with regard to children.

Over this past year, I have had numerous opportunities to work with recovery-oriented providers and organizations, mental health advocates and reformers, and families. Families who are crying out for help and don’t know where to turn.

Which brings us back to the things we’re not talking about.

Why do our families and relatives keep suffering in such profound and life-altering ways? What is the nature of this suffering? And how do we truly heal?

There are no easy answers and no quick fixes. But there is tremendous potential for healing and transformation when we stop looking for magic pills and potions and start looking for meaning and purpose, community, compassion and connection.

Healing is hard work. It is rarely accomplished alone.

In nature, mother bears are known for fiercely protecting their children from harm and for raising fiercely independent children. And while mother bears do this work alone, we humans cannot. There is too much suffering in silence. Too many cries for help. Too few resources. And too much work to be done.

We are all Adam Lanza’s mother. We are all Sandy Hook’s parents. We are all hurting. And it is going to take all of us, working together, to heal.

That is the real conversation we should be having.

A conversation that is unflinching in its demand for healing solutions that are better, safer, more compassionate and more effective for our children and our families.

Solutions that don’t fit neatly inside a bottle.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight on Youtube emphasizes using the right-brain’s awareness of harmony to improve lives. I’m struck by Liza Long’s left-brained focus on rules: “Your school’s dress code says black or khaki pants only… You’re grounded… if he ever said those words again, I would take him straight to the mental hospital.” When so many social structures are so heavily rule-oriented, could more balanced, right-brained functioning improve mental health?

    Brainwave balancing technology plays back harmonious brainwave sounds to correct imbalances. Googling “brainstatetech.com in the news videos” returns a page with Wynonna on Access Hollywood, stating: “It’s helping people with trauma, vets, and… rape victims. Anybody’s whose suffered a loss of a child, something just so horrific that you can’t seem to heal from it. I’m off the four medications that were life-altering, and I’m just in a really good place.”

    Brainwave balancing has even healed meth addicts and hardened prisoners of many problems. Googling “brainstatetech.com Adult County Probation Study” and “brainstatetech.com Nevada Prison Demonstration” returns those reports. I’m not paid to share this.

      • Brainstatetech.com enables people to listen to their own brains. The CBS San Francisco Report on “brainstatetech.com in the news videos” plays the sound of “human brainwaves put to musical tones.” It states, “When the insomniacs listened to their unique musical brain tones, their brains went back into sync.”

        I stopped the Youtube videos you cited from playing soon after they started. Then, I said the spiritual meditations which I’ve found to bring me harmony. I used to listen to songs from Heart Zones and Quiet Joy by Doc Childre, which were designed using musical patterns that were found to enable harmonious biorhythms. I liked them.

        Our nation’s security depends on protecting our resources. Many resources are spent on health care. Our nation’s people are our resources. Maintaining their health most effectively is thus a matter of national security. Many people may think standard treatments are most effective. Do they think people who advocate against such treatments endanger public health?

        Aren’t people who love protecting health willing to advocate for continual improvement? Isn’t protecting the mental harmony of such advocates vital to protecting our nation’s resources? In the lives of people and nations, doesn’t doing our best mean being willing to continually improve?

  2. There may be an argument for a *sane* use of psychiatric drugs for *adults* – points that need to be made (and heard)for a *limited* use for these drugs – small amounts, limited periods of time, in a crisis – *always* with *fully-informed* consent, with an *exit* strategy from the outset – information on how to slowly taper, withdrawal… Adults should be *free* to make their own decisions…

    But we do *not* need dialogue for the use of psychotropics with children… for two reasons:

    1) They are *not* safe for children and youth, whose brains are still developing.
    2) Children and youth *cannot* legally give *consent!

    No more.
    Not another kid placed on mind-altering drugs!
    Not *one more* kid!

    Duane

  3. Thanks so much for bringing your wise andcompassionate voice to the conversation, Jen, and for keeping the focus on healing and questioning the role of psychiatric meds in violence and struggle.

    It is so alarming to me that people are missing this very important point and that we are so persistent in attributing human struggle to an illness, when the cause is so often relational and trauma based.

    Thank you for sharing your insight and your wonderful heart.

    • My priority is that there needs to be discernment between those who truly ARE born as they are and those who suffer due to traumas, impacts, neglect and abuse.

      January “Jani” Schofield is an excellent example of a person who is BORN as she is. Her level of violence makes me think of Amie’s son Jayden, but I would still suggest that a great deal of violence is actually learned. If violence is innate, by nature, then it serves a purpose or function.

  4. Jennifer,

    Thanks so much for your insights. I hope that the encouraging message and pointed questions that you and the Mother Bear community put forth will be heard when the debate heats up in the coming months. My heart is already sinking when I hear that the focus will be on gun control AND mental illness. We know where the actual focus will be. The easy target.

    To me, mental illness is the red herring here. Yes, families need access to good and unbiased help, but the number of crimes committed by the “mentally ill” is statistically very low. Vowing to do something about the “mentally ill” goes down well with voters who are uninformed about the mental health debates that are currently underway with people who care about these issues. What does the public at large care if it takes away the freedoms of the people who are sleeping on their sidewalks, refusing to take their medication as prescribed, and very rarely killing people?

    The President was quoted as saying that “Authorities must work to make “access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun.” But what mental health care? Medications only? Will laws legislating forced treatment for the “mentally ill” suddenly become popular with lawmakers? Of course they will. The politicians will look as if they are doing something about gun violence, while at the same time doing nothing that will improve the mass murder stats.

    I would love to see articulate people from Mother Bear and like-minded recovery communities go on public television and make the points that need to be made to ensure push back for those who want to see forced treatment (which means medications.)
    Now, I am rambling…

    …Rossa

  5. Jen, thank you for raising the issue of the violence-inducing effects of psych drugs, which the mainstream media has been ignoring since the Columbine shootings and every mass shooting since. But I don’t understand the title of your piece. I am NOT Adam Lanza’s mother. I do not own an arsenal. And if I had kids, I most certainly would not dope them up with psych drugs and take them to a shooting range. So in what way do you mean that “we are all Adam Lanza’s Mother?”

  6. We are also people like Nancy or Adam.
    I think, the divorce, the medicines (Fanapt) taken by Adam, the don’t care attitudes of the society and the over pampering by Nancy, remarriage of his father, Nancy’s strict nature, Nancy hiding the problems rather than solving it, Nancy not allowing him to join the army, Nancy’s intentions to send him for mental treatment and her short vacations leaving him alone in the house, all these together might have led to such a crisis.

    Please think why so much of children who are affected by Asperger’s are there in the society. Are we communicating with the children properly? The moment children are able to play on computers, parents only give them computers so that it is easy for them to look after the children. Then how can children communicate with other children. They are used to communicating with imaginary people in computers. Please think aloud, why so much of children are affected by this disease.
    This incident should be an eye opener to think of what is wrong with the present society and how it can be corrected. He was a victim of the society’s drawbacks.
    Let this incident be a stepping stone for a renovation.
    Apply the “Glasnost” (openness) and “Perestroika” (restructuring) applied by Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia when Russia underwent an economic crisis.
    Nothing happens without the knowledge of GOD. GOD allowed this to happen for the good of the future generations.

    We want a revolution, a “revolution of love” to eradicate such type of incidents in future. Nothing is impossible for man, if he wants, with the grace of GOD.

    I have started the revolution. Join me.

  7. Good article. I totally believe until we start to address the real issue of mental illness treatment within the USA we will continue to have senseless killings similar those over the last couple years.

    I had a sister that was prescribed psychiatric meds but resisted taking them as she herself was a doctor and I believe her ego would not let her acknowledge the need – she is no longer with us. I also have a brother that is on these meds now and appears to be benefiting from them AT THE MOMENT. The real reason for my venturing into this forum is over the holidays my 85 year father just had a psychotic breakdown as a result of taking Celexa (Citalopram HBr) and I have been googling if Adam Lanza was taking any similar drugs – still waiting for someone to report. In my father’s case, if he had a gun available last week there is NO question in my mind he would have killed whoever was in front of him.

    I was called early on the 27th to come to my parents home as my father was having a breakdown and getting very violent. As I watched the police and fire department remove him wrapped in a blanket strapped down in a collapsible stretcher I figured this was it – my father just went over the edge and had checked out mentally. Over the next 2 days we learned the doctors were weening him off Celexa and low and behold the father I knew had returned – a little forgetful but at 85 he is perfect.

    With a little research into Celexa I am completely baffled how my father was ever prescribed SSRI meds but I have my hunches. At a minimum I would expect any doctor that prescribes these to be overly concerned with continuous monitoring for side effects or at the least ensuring ALL family members are well aware of the potential side effects and what to watch for in their behavior. But as I learned from my sister, family members are left in the dark when it comes to patient mental illness information unless the release of information is legally signed off by the patient – without that the doctor or hospital will not tell you anything.

    Looking back over the last 6 months or so all my mothers comments about how my father was acting strange, having difficulty sleeping, laughing at inappropriate times – it all now makes sense – Celexa’s side effects were kicking in and the time-bomb was getting ready to explode but who would have known he was only a 85 year old man suffering from old age effects.

    I have a meeting setup for next week with his doctor in an attempt to figure out how the hell he was prescribe these meds. One possibility is for depression from my sister’s death but that should come out next week – I have other hunches as well. They have him on another form of SSRI which will end next week after my meeting with his doctor.

    Mental health is a very difficult thing to deal with especially in a country where is it grossly underfunded and was abandoned as a social priority back in the Ronald Reagan era. Personally I believe if you do not have an immediate family member that has suffered from it you cannot comprehend all that goes along with it. What did Nancy Lanza actually know about her adult son Adam? Unless the father or doctors speak-up all one can assume is she didn’t know anything because Adam did not give permission for her to know – as was the case with my sister. Was Adam on meds? After watching my father last week on Celexa I would be willing to wager alot on yes he was taking meds – but will we ever know with all the privacy laws and big $$$ Pharma’s vested interests in SSRIs – I doubt it. As stated until we begin to address this countries pitifully underfunded support for mental illness we will continue to watch these painful episodes of senseless killings where after last week I believe a lot of them are prescribed psychiatric drug induced psychotic breakdowns where the individual had access to guns.

  8. “More than a year ago, I read Robert Whitaker’s book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, and the body of research that throws into question the validity of biochemical imbalance theories and the safety and efficacy of our current medication-focused, disease-based approach to treating emotional distress.”
    -from the article above…. I’m going to go much further here. That line about “chemical imbalance” was NOT the result of, nor did it originate from, ANY legitimate medical perspective or person(s). The whole “(so-called)mental illnesses are caused by chemical imbalances” was FABRICATED by MARKETING persons within the pharmaceutical industry. There is NO, repeat NO legitimate medical evidence for any “chemical balance”, OR “chemical imbalance”. That word “chemical” ONLY appears as an excuse and justification to $ELL DRUG$. GOT IT? Yes, SOMEtimes, SOME folks do seem to do better, on SOME drugs, for SOME short length of time. But, NOBODY can say with any certainty, because there is NO legitimate science which shows either the NEED, or the BENEFIT of long-term polypharmacy. And, life-long polypharmacy is the “gold standard” for biopsychiatry. Funny, how they call it “gold standard”. Psychiatry is a FRAUD, and a pseudoscience. And, the psych drugs THEMSELVES CAUSE the very same so-called “symptoms” of so-called “mental illnesses”. ALL the bogus “diagnoses” in the DSM-5 are INVENTED for the purposes of selling drugs, and maintaining the facade of legitimacy which biopsychiatry hides behind. Psychiatry has done, and continues to do, far more harm than good. I am living proof of the lies of the pseudoscience drugs racket known as psychiatry. Until and unless a critical mass of Citizens WAKE UP to the truth, we will continue to have brain-damaged psychiatric drug victims acting out violently. So-called “SSRI’s” in teen boys is an especially dangerous combination, as are the neuroleptics, and “atypicals”. Psychiatry long ago prostituted itself to PhRMa. There are far safer treatments than TOXIC DRUGS.
    (c)2016, Tom Clancy, Jr., *NON-fiction