When Idaho resident Liza Long wrote an anonymous post on her blog, Anarchist Soccer Mom, after the horrific 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, she never imagined it would go viral. The blog post, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” described Long’s feelings about her own experience parenting a child with mental illness. Long’s family had been “stretched so thin on that horrible day in Newtown” that she started asking herself questions: “What will my son’s future be? Are they going to blame me if this ever happens?” The mother is always the first to be blamed, she says.
“Parenting is hard for everyone, but when you’re parenting a child with complex needs and you have to deal with multiple systems, like education and health care and sometimes unfortunately, juvenile corrections, it can be so overwhelming,” she says. Her son has since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Although the blog post was anonymous, a friend who edited a Boise State University publication, “The Blue Review,” knew her identity and asked if he could publish it with her name attached. “We talked through the implications and he said something very powerful: ‘Until people are willing to put their names on their stories, it’s not real,’ ” she says.
Long, a writer, educator, mental health advocate and author of “The Price of Silence: A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness,” will be in the Valley Feb. 27 to speak at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service “A Brighter Tomorrow” luncheon (see details box).
Going public with the blog had major implications for the mother of four, including losing custody of her two younger children. “After the blog post, a family law judge determined in an ex parte hearing that my two younger children should be taken because they were not safe in the home with their brother.” It took Long almost a year to get them back. “I was devastated,” she says.
Today, as she reflects on the past two years, she wants to share a message of hope for families. “Our family took a pretty severe hit because I came forward and I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do for a year. Now I feel in the grand scheme of things that it was the right thing because so many people suddenly felt like they have a voice, too.”
Speaking out about her son’s illness resulted in his diagnosis, she says. After the blog post, a national specialist in bipolar disorder reached out to Long and she was able to take her son to see him. “It was such a game changer for our family,” she says. Long’s son is back in a mainstream school, has friends and is doing well, she says. He just wrote a book about demigods from outer space who all have mental illnesses that are actually super powers.
To get a better understanding of what people with mental illness face, Long suggests getting to know someone who is living with it. “Sit down and talk to them. We have to humanize our friends, our children, our parents and our brothers and sisters who have mental illness,” she says.
In the bigger picture, Long says something must be done at a national level to solidify our fragmented systems of care. “We handle mental illness in a very costly way, both in terms of money and also in terms of lives.” She cites lack of coordination of care, not enough psychiatrists, particularly child psychiatrists, Medicaid regulations and lack of support as major stumbling blocks for those seeking help with mental illness.
Long says easy fixes would include giving incentives to medical students to specialize in child psychiatry; basic training for pediatricians to include mental health screening at every well-child visit; and providing onsite therapies at school, such as occupational and “talk” therapies. “You start with children because early intervention and providing parents with support works,” she says.
And, as to her sudden notoriety, Long says she hasn’t changed the world, but “I get to be part of the conversation and I’m very humbled by that and very grateful.”
To read Liza Long’s blog, visit anarchistsoccermom.blogspot.com.
Who: Liza Long
When: 11:45 a.m. Feb. 27
Where: Arizona Biltmore, 2400 E. Missouri Drive, Phoenix
Cost: $180, purchase by Feb. 16