The last few days since the Sandy Hook massacre the media has been full of gossip and speculation about the young man who committed this horrific crime. Journalists have talked about his introverted personality, his social awkwardness, and being a troubled teenager. There has been speculation that he has Asperger’s Syndrome or some kind of mental illness or both. Blog posts, news segments, and radio programs have been full of arm chair psychiatrists and neurologists discussing what could have happened and how in the future our society can deter such crimes.
I am saddened by what I am reading and hearing in the media – “Lock them up!” ”Don’t allow them in our schools.” It sounds like the beginnings of a modern day witch hunt. In the name of ratings more than a quarter of our society is being demonized while creating hysteria where there needn’t be. Officials are asking for guns to be put in teacher’s hands or armed officers to be put in every public school. Instead of creating an atmosphere of learning for our children we are promoting an atmosphere of fear and paranoia.
I empathize with mothers like Liza Long who wrote the now viral article, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” I get it. I get it because, like Liza Long, I am parenting a child with mental illness. However I do not live in a state of fear. I am NOT the mother of a potential killer. I am the mother of a child who receives behavioral therapy, sees a psychiatrist, and takes medication. I am the mother of a child who is empathetic and caring, who does not know a stranger, who loves animals, has excellent manners, and works hard at being a good student. Having a mental illness does not define who you are or your path in life.
We need to remove the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. Parents of children who have behavioral disorders and mental illness are often not provided adequate services or resources. Many parents avoid getting help for their children for fear of the lifelong backlash of labeling or an inability to get affordable health care in the future. Politicizing what should or should not be done will not help the one in four Americans who suffer from a mental illness. Blaming parents, like Adam Lanza’s mother, for keeping their private struggles private is not beneficial to parents or individuals who are dealing with mental illness on a daily basis.
The truth is that people with mental illness or autism spectrum disorders are not to be feared or thought of as potential killers. Each and every day we interact and associate with children and adults with disorders of the brain. They are not a threat to our lives or that of our children. We should not open ourselves up to looking side eyed at every introverted child or child who doesn’t fit inside the box of what society deems as normal behavior. It is hard enough for children to fit into society with the constantly changing social pressures; we do not need to create more obstacles for them to overcome.
Society demands a quick fix to the violence seen in Newtown, Connecticut. There is no quick fix. These are complex issues that require complex solutions. Neither arming teachers nor banning guns will keep people safe from evil acts no matter by whom they are committed. The solution is not in creating more prisons or sanitariums nor is it turning places of learning into fortresses with armed guards. Let us not become a society fueled by suspicion and fear.
Guest contributor Kimberly Wright Knowles writes the blog It’s a Beautiful Wreck.