What It's Like to Have a Child With Mental Illness

In the hours following the aftermath of the 2012 tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, Liza Long took to her anonymous blog to pen a heartfelt and powerful response to the incident. Long is a mother of four children, one of whom suffers from mental illness. In addition to sharing in the empathy and all-encompassing sadness that other moms felt (and still feel) surrounding the shooting, she felt something else too. "Three days before 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, then opened fire on a classroom full of Connecticut kindergartners, my 13-year-old son Michael (name changed) missed his bus because he was wearing the wrong color pants . . . 'You're a stupid bitch. I can wear whatever pants I want to. This is America. I have rights!' [he screamed at her]. I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me," Long wrote.

She was encouraged to republish the post under the headline I Am Adam Lanza's Mother, and it quickly went viral (to the tune of 1.2 million-plus likes on Facebook, 15,000 comments, and 30,000 emails). In the blink of an eye, Long had become the unofficial (and unintentional) voice of families coping with mental illness.

Long's recently released book, The Price of Silence: A Mom's Perspective on Mental Illness, is a candid chronicle of her experience as a mother and advocate for change. Here's what she wants you to know:

I just want moms to be kind to each other: Whether on the playground, in the grocery store, or amongst friends, Long's simplest request is for moms to appreciate what their peers are going through. "Think of your toddler's worst-ever meltdown, then imagine that happening when he's ten," she said of the episodes that parents of kids with mental illness have to cope with. Before you shoot a nasty glare or gossip to a friend, consider what she might be going through.

The best thing you can do for a mom whose child is suffering: "We had to call the police because my son had threatened suicide. They pulled up to the house, and he started banging his head against the police car, and lacerated it. I was sitting at the curb at my wit's end, trying to hold it all together when this wonderful police man came over and said, 'Hey, you're a really good mom.' It was exactly what I needed at that moment."

How her family's survived (and thrived) amidst their challenges: "We're an incredibly loving family, and we're just very frank about these topics," Long says. "He ['Michael'] has frightened us, and he's frightened, too. It's a topic that we talk about every single day. Mental illness is a whole family problem. And you absolutely have to have a safety plan. [When their brother has one of his psychotic episodes, Long's other kids, run to the car and locking themselves inside.] If you're not sure where to begin the conversation, or what to do, contact Child Protective Services, or a therapist."

Trust your instincts: "We recognized differences [in Michael] from very early on," Long told us. "He was expressing feelings of wanting to die as early as age four, and I've heard very similar stories from other parents. The very first place where you can make the biggest impact is through early intervention. You have to allow yourself to say 'This isn't right.'"

What every single one of us can do to affect change: "People may be more aware now that this is a psychiatric disorder, and not a behavioral issue, but it hasn't decreased the stigma. We're still afraid. What you can do is to get to know someone with mental illness. Really knowing them will change your whole view. I'm so proud of the young people out there who are willing to reach out to Michael as a human being. We have a wonderful, loving relationship, and what happens during those episodes is not him. It's the illness."