November 05, 2014

By Simone McKitterick

The Price of Silence book cover

The Price of Silence
By Liza Long
Hudson Street Press 2014

On Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 staff members before taking his own life at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Prior to this, Lanza shot and killed his mother. When blogger and activist Liza Long heard about the shooting, her first thought was “What if my son does that someday?”

Long then went on to post a response on her then-anonymous blog, The Anarchist Soccer Mom titled “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” The post went viral, garnering millions of likes on Facebook and thousands of retweets and email responses. The feedback launched an advocate career and the beginnings of Long’s book. In The Price of Silence, she introduces her son “Michael,” who lives with bipolar disorder and has rages that lead him through a labyrinth of hospital stays, previous multiple diagnoses and drug cocktails and juvenile detention.  Long describes her battle to get him a proper diagnosis and treatment, find a school that would accommodate his needs and keep him out of jail.

Long’s book is a balancing act of two stories that is mirrored by thousands: children with mental illness and disabilities and the families who struggle against problems such as limited financial resources, difficulty obtaining diagnoses and policies that do not allow early intervention, giving rise to what Long describes as a “school-to-prison pipeline.”

In Long’s own words, “The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) required employer-sponsored plans to create parity for mental and physical health, but it did not extend that requirement to individual plans.” At the time she was writing this, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) had not been put into place. Things have progressed: in 2014, President Obama created the ACA to counteract against the limits set by the MHPAEA, and expand the rules for Medicaid, allowing more people to successfully apply.

Yet too many children and adolescents are overlooked or outright dismissed as “not qualified” by the American mental health care system. Prisons have replaced hospitals as the only way to not only ensure the safety of families and the public, but to provide children (many of whom are nonviolent) with the services they desperately need. Long’s suggestions of community-based care, early interventions, integrated education and training of teachers and law enforcement officials have been cited before, but perhaps not from the view of a mother whose child has suffered the consequences of an inept system. In the end, Long asks the question “If there’s a poster child for cancer, why can’t there be one for mental illness?”

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