Dear Congress: If Mental illness Causes Mass Shootings, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

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Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Liza Long ~

dear politiciansIt’s easy to blame mental illness, but we fail to mention that treatment works and recovery is possible for many.

For mothers of teenagers like me, news about a school shooting never gets any easier. We experience the same dread, the same despair, the same fear that someone will attack our children’s school. In between mass shootings, we drill our children on what they would do. We check on their social media accounts. We try to pretend that there’s some sense of safety in a world that always seems full of random, unpredictable violence.

I’m the mom CNN used to call whenever there was a school shooting. And today, one day after 17 children who are the same age as mine did not come home from school because of another mass shooting, I’m angry. Predictably, politicians have tweeted meaningless “thoughts and prayers.” Also predictably, some Republicans have tried to shift the blame for the latest massacre to the isolated actions of a “mentally disturbed individual.”  

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting five years ago, I shared my story of parenting a child with violent behavioral symptoms of a then-undiagnosed mental illness in a viral essay entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” In that essay, I wrote, “It’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.” 

Now, I’m concerned that we are having the same blame and shame conversation without any meaningful action, as this viral Facebook post shows.  

Today, with the correct diagnosis (bipolar disorder) and treatment that works, my son Eric lives in recovery. In 2016, he even gave a TEDx Boise talk about his experiences.  Eric is a normal high school senior who, like many of the Parkland, Florida students, is planning for college next fall.

Today, I feel that blaming mental illness for an epidemic of violence in the wake of so many mass shootings has become a meaningless trope. If politicians and the National Rifle Association really believe that mental illness causes mass shootings, it’s time to put their money where their mouth is. Here are a few suggestions:

Most people can agree that universal background checks and allowing the government to track gun violence statistics (currently prohibited by federal law) are good first steps to better understanding and controlling our nation's clear gun problem.

To be transparent, I live in Idaho, a gun-loving state. I grew up in a family that hunted, and my brothers taught shooting sports at Boy Scout camp. I have enjoyed shooting sports in the past. While I do not personally have guns in my home because of my son’s illness, I know many responsible gun owners, some of whom live in recovery. 

Yes, it’s true: people who have mental illness can be responsible gun owners, which is why mental health advocacy organizations including the National Alliance on Mental Illness believe that “Federal and state gun reporting laws should be based on these identified traits, not mental illness.”   

People who are in treatment for mental illness and are compliant with treatment should not be treated any differently than anyone else. To focus on mental illness as the sole cause of mass shootings is a clear example of the pervasive discrimination and fear in our society. In fact, while it’s true that at least one-third of mass shooters seem to have had an untreated mental illness, a more common predictor of this kind of violence is a history of animal abuse or domestic violence, as is the case with the Florida shooter. Both of these deplorable behaviors are actual crimes, and both of them should require immediate intervention including loss of gun rights.

But mental illness is not—and should not be—a crime.

It’s time to act.  Build the community mental health treatment centers. Fund research into cures. And most importantly, stop blaming by association the millions of good people who live in recovery for the violent actions of a few.

* * * * * * *

lizaLiza Long, aka the Anarchist Soccer Mom, is a writer, educator, mental health advocate, and mother of four children. She loves her Steinway, her husband, her kids, and her day job, not necessarily in that order. Her book "The Price of Silence: A Mom's Perspective on Mental Illness" from Hudson Street Press is available in bookstores and online. 

You can read this post and other writings by Liza Long on the Anarchist Soccer Mom website.




  1. Beverly's avatar
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    Hi Ms. Long. I truly understand your point. Here is my issue. I work for an organization that supports families that have children with emotional, developmental, behavioral, and substance abuse or mental health concerns. I have gone into schools(not all) and been we told by the principle, "We will see if this is a good fit for our school." It feels brushed off a little. I'm sadden by the lack of concern some schools have about the prevention measure that are offered to families outside of school time. As a parent that has a child with mental and emotional issues I wish these services were suggested to me by the school. I would like for school officials to take action when they see a constant issue with behavioral concerns in the classroom, instead of thinking it's just behavior.
    My organization provide support and teaching advocacy skills to parents to participate actively in individualized education Planning meeting, Plan of Care Meetings, Child Welfare and Court hearings or other meetings pertaining to the child's behaviors and health care needs. We offer support to families and helping them deal with isolation of community or family members that don't understand their daily struggles related to mental illness. We would like to educate families on these issues to promote wellness, trust, and hope. I think it's fair to say we all could use a little more education on preventive maintenance to help youth(adults) learn how to manage and live in recovery. This illness does not go away.
    Sorry this was so long but I'm a parent that has a child managing her recovery everyday and I hope that other parents could learn to help their families deal with the shame associated with the stigma of mental health.
  2. Rhonda Hertwig's avatar
    Rhonda Hertwig
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    CMHNetwork/Lisa Lambert,

    So it is that another posting has been submitted and again blaming our politicians and the NRA on shootings. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and learn about the ACES Study (adverse childhood experiences) and the work that is being done by so many professionals. As a pediatric nurse with many years of experience, including school nursing, I would like to remind all that there is always a background of concern for the mental health of offenders. And there are a few things parents could be doing as they do have power! If you havent noticed, our education system here in the USA does not have the support they need - these are the institutions that are helping to raise our children, yet we ignore the facts: teachers are paid a very low salary for what they do; we dont value the need for a school nurse (and I mean a Registered Nurse - not a parent sub or a health aid, but an RN); we should push for School Based Health Clinics that include mental health services; we need to push for integrating Trauma-Informed Care in all schools; we need support services for families that may include home visits; we need after school parent support education; we need more youth/peer advocacy groups to support in-school services and that recognize the social-emotional support that all students need. We dont need to bash Pres. Trump or anyone else for what has been said - blaming statements that refer to "mental illness" just shows you are stigmatizing the biggest barrier to overcoming a huge public health problem! We all need to take a step back and work to support measures that will bring importance to our children and one another.All the services that are related to contact with children - schools, law enforcement, child welfare services, after school services, health care providers, the juvenile justice system, and our elected officials - we all need to understand and educate ourselves about growth and development and the vulnerabilities that our children face. I always like to refer to one of Nelson Mandela's many valuable quotes - "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children".
  3. Lisa Lambert's avatar
    Lisa Lambert
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    Nailed it once again, Liza
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