A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness

By Liza Long

Hudson Street. 282 pp. $25.95 

“I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother,” Liza Long’s brief account of living with her 13-year-old-son, who suffered from an undiagnosed psychological illness that led to violent episodes, went viral in 2013. She shared her story in the wake of several mass shootings by young, mentally unstable perpetrators who should have been in treatment. The essay’s title came from its dramatic conceit: “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. . . . It’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.” Now, in “The Price of Silence,” Long expands on that sentiment.

‘The Price of Silence: A Mom's Perspective on Mental Illness’ by Liza Long (Hudson Street)

After a rash of tragic rampages and school shootings, pundits and politicians proposed limiting mentally ill people’s access to guns or enhancing the powers of school administrators to intervene in their lives. Instead, Long focuses on the paucity of therapeutic resources. It’s easy to find hundreds of books on how to raise a healthy child. But how, she asks, do you raise the self-esteem of a child who is bipolar?

Raw emotion propels “The Price of Silence.” Like most parents, Long initially “did not want to admit that my son had a mental illness.” Accepting it meant having to navigate, while at the same time resisting, the school-to-prison pipeline that sees hordes of mentally ill children become public burdens — homeless or incarcerated adults. In most states, public treatment services for young people are operated by the juvenile justice system; children like Long’s son are stigmatized early by being criminalized. Federal laws promising special education are on the books, but the cost of implementation is high. Responsible parents become full-time advocates on behalf of their mentally ill children. “Advocacy breeds resentment both from school district personnel and from other parents, as I learned with my own son,” Long writes.

Long’s descriptions of a mother’s struggle made “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” compelling. “The Price of Silence” is more explanatory, an argument for better resources, and the writing lacks color. But despite reading like an extended newspaper editorial, Long’s appeal has enough pathos to make it valuable.

Darryl Wellington