Troubled son or abusive partner? Or, when does caring for become enabling?

Ruth Marcus writes about the Connecticut state’s attorney’s report on the Sandy Hook murderer, and in particular Nancy Lanza’s home life with her son:

“The mother did the shooter’s laundry on a daily basis as the shooter often changed clothing during the day.”

That matter-of-fact recitation, from the just-released official report on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, encapsulates the enduring contradiction of Nancy Lanza, shot four times in her bed with her .22-caliber Savage Mark II rifle.

.        .       .       .        .        .        .

The state’s attorney’s report documents this dogged maternal determination: “The mother took care of all of the shooter’s needs. The mother indicated that she did not work because of her son’s condition. She worried about what would happen to the shooter if anything happened to her.”

Nancy Lanza structured her life around her son’s peculiarities. Workers at the house “were instructed never to ring the doorbell and to make prior arrangements before using power equipment as her son had issues with loud noises.”

Adam Lanza “was particular about the food that he ate and its arrangement on a plate in relation to other foods on the plate. Certain types of dishware could not be used for particular foods. The mother would shop for him and cook to the shooter’s specifications.” When Nancy Lanza considered moving to Washington state so that Adam could attend a special school, she planned to buy a recreational vehicle “as he would not sleep in a hotel.”

Birthdays, Christmas and holidays were not to be celebrated. “He would not allow his mother to put up a Christmas tree.The mother explained it by saying that [the] shooter had no emotions or feelings. The mother also got rid of a cat because the shooter did not want it in the house.”

None of this could have been easy. Although they lived in the same house, Adam “would only communicate with her by email.” According to one witness interviewed, “when his mother asked him if he would feel bad if anything happened to her, he replied, ‘No.’ ”

How would we react to a person who treated his romantic partner this way?  Would we be surprised in the end that he killed her, when this appears to be the end result of so many cases of domestic violence?  This description of the murderer makes him sound like an abusive partner, controlling his mother with his anger.  Last year in the aftermath of the massacre, I noted that I’ve almost never heard of an uncommunicative, friendless, unempathetic daughter in her late teens or early 20s whose social isolation is indulged by her parents, and yet that’s become a typical-profile of male mass-murderers in the past 15 years.

Why should this be tolerated by any parent of an adult child any more than we think it should be tolerated by anyone in an abusive domestic partnership?  At what point does Nancy Lanza’s accommodation of her son’s sensory integration disorder become him controlling or even abusing her?  (Maybe another way to ask this question is:  what’s the line between his disability and being an entitled jerk?)  Would any therapist have advised her to live with him treating her like this?  And finally:  what–given his lack of empathy–made her think that giving him access to firearms was a good idea?

35 thoughts on “Troubled son or abusive partner? Or, when does caring for become enabling?

  1. Well, I do not feel that having a “disease” entitles people to behave poorly. In this I am not fashionable, I know.

    Disease may be an explanation but it is no excuse.


  2. It’s very hard to tell what was going on in that household (though “a combination of mental illnesses/disabilities” — the son’s* and possibly also to some extent the mother’s — seems like a reasonable guess), but I suspect that Nancy Lanza was to some extent the human equivalent of the frog in the slowly-heating pot of water: trying to stay connected to her son in some way, any way, and getting drawn more and more into accepting his worldview as normal or at least acceptable, rather than providing boundaries and a reality check for him (which might or might not have helped him, but probably would have helped her maintain her own grip on reality, and her own identity apart from “Adam’s mother”). Gender norms/roles/expectations certainly played a part in allowing her to become so overwhelmed by her caregiving role (if nothing else, Adam’s father was presumably less susceptible because he was expected to play the breadwinning role).

    One also, I suspect, has to throw in the ADA, mainstreaming, and deinstitutionalization — all of which come from profoundly well-intentioned places, and have had some very real positive effects, but which have also in some ways increased the expectations for designated caregivers of children with disabilities — who tend to be mothers. I suspect many college professors have had the experience of having, in addition to a number of students with relatively mild mental/developmental disabilities with pretty good coping/compensation skills and a developing sense of their strengths and weaknesses and how they might realistically function in the world, a few students with more serious problems who seem highly unlikely to make it in the work world. I’m never quite sure whether college is the best place for such students; some undoubtedly benefit (from the experience, the education, and/or the degree) but some parents (and students) seem to be using college as a way of prolonging denial/postponing facing the reality that the student probably cannot support hirself, and is probably going to need some sort of lifelong guidance/supervision (or, more optimistically, a long learning/training period, in life skills as much as academic ones, probably combined with an equally long hunt for a job situation that fits hir particular strengths and weaknesses).

    I assume that the gun thing was some combination of one more approach to trying to bond with her son and wanting to continue an activity that I gather was common in her family, and among her friends (and maybe feeling a need for protection since she was living alone — maybe even, in some way, recognizing she was in danger, without being able to admit to herself that her son might be the source of that danger?) It’s unfathomable to me, too. In one way, it seems unfair to blame a woman who paid the ultimate price for her mistakes herself; on the other hand, I think it’s fair to suggest that, had she lived, she would by now be at least the target of a civil suit, if not of criminal prosecution — and probably rightfully so.

    *One possibility is that Adam Lanza had both problems of long standing (a developmental disability on the Autism spectrum, possibly combined with some other issues) and one of the mental illnesses that tend to first manifest when the patient is in his teens or early twenties. Assuming that she was dealing with a longstanding, serious but in some ways familiar, problem, when in fact the situation was changing might explain some of her blind spots.


  3. Nancy Lanaza’s home weapons collection, given her son’s behavior, is downright bizarre. We don’t know whether Adam asked for the weapons, she liked weapons or she just was incapable of thinking straight.

    My kids never crossed any line or even come close to crossing. I feel uncomfortable passing judgement on Nancy Lanza’s behavior.


  4. All I find myself thinking when I read about Nancy Lanza is “doing her best, which wasn’t good enough.”

    That can happen to anyone, can’t it? Not usually with such horrific consequences.

    I don’t know. I just keep wishing there’d been more help for her.


  5. As someone with a parent who has a chronic illness, I can see how some of this might creep up on Nancy Lanza. Chronic illness plays out over a long period of time. You make accommodations and try to help the chronically sick family member on a day to day basis. So you have to think long term, but act in the short term. Its easy for decisions you make in the short term, with outcomes you consider temporary, to become permanent.

    The disabled and the chronically ill are made into stoic heroes by popular culture, but they can be real difficult pains in the assess to their caregivers and family. Under the mythology of sick person as hero, the family caregiver has to suck it up and take the brunt of the sick person’s frustration and anger. A paid caregiver can tell the sick person to (politely) shove it where the sun doesn’t shine and can demand respect from a position of professional authority. I’ve seen this happen with my parent who is now in full time residential care. I can easily see how Nancy Lanza might have been sucked into the undertow of her disabled son.

    The problem was that there was nobody in this boy’s life to say, “no.” Institutionalizing the son after age 16 might not have been the worst thing in the world. But that is a hard case to make, because it is not what people want to hear about the chronically ill.

    Our winner takes all healthcare system and social safety net contributes to unnecessary emotional and physical suffering. Thirty odd years ago my parents probably needed a social worker to help them understand the system and advocate for my sick parent, but as part of the downwardly mobile upper lower middle class, they had no idea such a thing existed and would not have qualified because they were too solvent. A social worker, regular follow up by nurses and psychiatric professionals and some sort of adult daycare to get Adam Lazna to socialize to the best of his abilities would have probably prevented this. So would more restrictive gun laws.

    But neither of the gun laws or our approach to chronic illness is likely to change. As a nation we are a bunch of individualistic assholes and this is our penance until we collectively get our act together and start to care for one another.


  6. Thanks for this post, which smartly turns on its head so much of the Lanza mother/son discourse — which focuses on her foolishness, blindness, coddling, and ultimately culpability.

    We still do talk this way about abused female partners (who too often are imagined as foolish or weak-willed for not leaving or for returning to their abusers), but the public conversation is slowly moving toward an understanding of what that kind of abuse means, and its real effects on women.

    I don’t know if your analysis is correct in this particular case, but the gender and parent/child dynamics you suggest are much richer and more interesting than the blindness or overindulgence narratives.


  7. Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments, and I’m sorry about that extraneous paragraph at the end, which was inserted in the post twice by mistake. (I fixed it.)

    Matt L., I really appreciate your reflections based on your experience in caring for (and observing the care of) a chronically ill parent. This is a great way to put it: “I can easily see how Nancy Lanza might have been sucked into the undertow of her disabled son.”. I can too, ESPECIALLY in the case of a child vs. a parent or even a spouse or partner. But as Contingent Cassandra notes, it’s usually the mothers who are left holding the bag.

    Interestingly, it seems that in the case of the Lanza family, the father and the brother had disconnected from the murderer. Should we read that as male diffidence or uncaring, or does that look in retrospect as a mentally healthy decision for them? (Isn’t this what we counsel people to do with abusive or cruel family members?) Had they insisted on institutionalizing the murderer, and the mother insisted that she could offer him a better environment?

    I also think Contingent Cassandra is onto something with her comment about there being more than one issue with this kid, i.e. on the spectrum plus the onset of schizophrenia, or something like that.


  8. While there are some choices that she made that were really, profoundly weird in my eyes (such as keeping firearms around the house), I wonder what choices she really had to deal with her son otherwise? The last half-century of mental health policy and legal precedent means that any medical or social services contacts just push your special needs relative right back atcha, whether or not you can handle them. Budget cuts eliminate programs, cut down on assistance and eliminate oversight.

    What options did she have? What of those options could she see, anymore, worn out, stressed to the maximum and struggling to cope while those around her turned away or tuned her out?

    I thank my lucky stars that my special needs kid can manage as well as she does so that we’re not struggling to care for someone the way that Nancy Lanza did until it all ended in disaster?


  9. Ditto to Janice. I too thank my lucky stars that my autism spectrum child can more or less cope in the real world although we must oversee parts of her life.

    It is much worse for others we know from support groups etc. One family which comes instantly to mind has a 24 year old son who after years of residential care has been returned to them as his funding has run out. They have a “safe” room in their home where the rest of the family including younger siblings can run to when the boy gets violent and out of control (because his food touched or the phone rang or one of a million other unforeseeable occurrences happened). The police have been called, he has been put on psychiatric hold, every agency possible has been contacted, the family has file boxes full of correspondence and forms and there is no where for this boy to be but with his family unless they bankrupt themselves (they are pretty close already) keeping him placed in a residential facility or he harms someone badly enough that he will end up in prison.

    The system is broken and blaming parents who are doing their best because they have no other options will not fix it. Although guns in the house are in my eyes a bad choice.


  10. amelie and Janice–thanks for your perspectives. How awful for the family who must hide in a safe room from one of their own children.

    I know that institutions that take psychiatric patients are hard to come by and it’s difficult to find a place that will take a patient, even when they exist. I wonder how health care reform in the U.S. will affect the family described above, now that insurance companies have to cover mental illness like & can’t kick someone off insurance because he’s been hospitalized too much? And no lifetime cap on benefits–I would hope that would help the family recover some of its finances. Here’s hoping it offers them some relief.

    BUT: What about counseling? What about insisting that a child go to a counselor for regular talk therapy, pharmaceutical treatment, etc.? At the least, a counselor could have enlisted a social worker to help identify services and agencies that might have been able to help.

    The Newtown, Conn. massacre and your comments here really point to the need for much more serious reforms in the U.S. health care system, i.e. single payer. Without it, families are really, truly on their own in caring for anyone with any kind of medical issue or disability, and on the hook financially as well as in all of the other tremendously painful and difficult ways as well.


  11. This is a terrific discussion, and the only thing I have to add to the discussion comes from the experience of a friend whose daughter made several suicide attempts in her late teens — attempts whose origins turned out to be at least partly in two rapes she had experienced (though her parents didn’t know). When she turned 18, it suddenly became much more complicated: her parents had no right to know anything about her records, and a doctor could compel hospitalization, not the parents. And even with relatively good insurance, they spent thousands trying to get her the help she needed, and hours arguing with the insurance company. At times no local psych ward would take her after a suicide attempt because the insurance would not agree to pay. (She appears to have come through this, has started college, and is doing well. But it was a very hard three years or so.)

    So the answer to H’ann’s last question is it’s very hard to compel treatment, especially when the person is adult. Unless it’s clear someone is a danger to self or others, in fact, it’s almost impossible. And even then, it’s hard, as amelie’s story shows.

    This is partly our spectacularly screwed up health system, which is even more dysfunctional on mental health care than it is in general. But it’s also the unintended side effect of de-institutionalization: that movement was good, but it was premised on building neighborhood services for the de-institutionalized. That, of course, never happened, so they are now cared for by struggling families, or filling our homeless shelters and our prisons.


  12. This discussion of Nancy Lanza brings to mind the recent case in Virginia (and another, sadly similar case I know of in a different state where the father was, in fact, murdered) – the attempted murder of Creigh Deeds by his son. His family, especially Mr. Deeds, clearly fought very hard to get his son help, and couldn’t. Of course the Lanza case differs from this and other examples in this thread, because his violence did not stem from an emotional outburst, but methodical planning. And yet, there is a pattern and the pattern is, as almost everyone has stated above, our horrifyingly inadequate mental health care system.


  13. The other parallel between the Lanza and Deeds cases is that the parent apparently kept guns in the home despite knowing that an extremely-troubled young adult would also be there. The wrinkle in the Deeds case is that the son attacked his father with a knife before turning a gun on himself. Somewhat predictably, the father survived (albeit with serious injuries), while the son died.

    As with Nancy Lanza, I’m very reluctant to point fingers at a parent who apparently tried his very best to help an extremely troubled young-adult child (and, given our conversation above, it’s worth noting that, for whatever combination of reasons, in the Deeds case it was the young man’s father who, at least on this occasion, seems to have been taking primary responsibility for trying to get his son help). But I just can’t understand why one would keep guns in the house in such a situation. Even for someone who customarily keeps them around, wouldn’t the presence of a child so seriously mentally ill one was seeking hospitalization be reason enough to remove them, at least temporarily, or change the combination on the gun safe, or something?

    Maybe Mr. Deeds is asking himself just this question. Maybe he was overtaken by an unexpected crisis, and would have tended to the guns during the hospitalization he was seeking for his son. And I’ll readily admit that I don’t feel the same way about his failure to lock up the knives (well, at least the kitchen knives; I’m not sure what sort of knife he was attacked with). But I do still wonder at a mindset that wouldn’t see removing/locking up the guns as extremely urgent in a situation like the one Mr. Deeds faced.


  14. Sadly there are many conditions that do not respond well to either talk therapy or medication. Many on the severe end of the autism spectrum – and it seems that Lanza was on it- especially if a second psychiatric condition is layered on top of it do not benefit from counseling because they are lacking self awareness. And psychiatric medications are difficult to get right and need constant readjustment even if one finds a medicine with good results. The many psychiatric holds for my friend’s son are for medication adjustments. Sometimes it helps for a while, sometimes not so much.

    The new healthcare law does not pay for long term residential placement. The responsibility for care falls to the family and you do everything possible to keep the peace and cope.


  15. Clearly, there are many wrongs in these situations that need corrected, not least good quality help and health care for people with poor mental health and/or disabilities. But, we might also wonder why those with mental illness shoot large numbers of children. This is where we need to also recognise that mental illhealth is informed by cultural norms and values. So, yes, fix the healthcare system, but you also need to fix a cultural worldview that allows young men to think that shooting people is a solution to their problems.


  16. I don’t think they think of being mass-murderers as a solution to their problems; I think they want to accomplish something grand and memorable, and this is the way they choose to do it. But, yes: why this, and why now are both excellent questions.

    I think it’s significant that they choose to shoot up people much more vulnerable than themselves. They choose to shoot up places that are unlikely to have very elaborate security details (malls & schools), versus (for example) going to a Manhattan skyscraper and trying to kill all of the employees on a given floor, or going to a professional football or basketball game and killing a crowd of people there (those events have a security screening.)

    What kind of early intervention might have helped the Lanza family? We can only speculate. I personally don’t blame the father for staying out of the murderer’s life. (Isn’t that just sensible advice when one has an abusive and controlling family member: stay away?!?) Perhaps he recognized that at some point little if anything could be done, esp. with a mother who accommodated the murderer so extensively. I think it’s probably a sign of mental health that the father and the other son detached from the abusive and controlling environment that the mother apparently assented to.

    Maybe it would have been for the best to let the murderer try to shift for himself & end up institutionalized, either in a prison or in a mental hospital. It probably would have saved a lot of lives, and his life was clearly lost in any case.


  17. Great discussion. I’d just add that the mother sounds like someone living on a base line of abject fear. Her son was a young man, strong and unpredictable and antisocial and no doubt utterly terrifying. A “child” in name only. I know a few mothers who live in a state of permanent fear of their sons who are often as young as 13 or 14. These mothers (it’s almost always the mothers) have absolutely no help, so it’s a vicious circle: they do what they can to get through the day, which in turn further enables their kids’ psychopathology. Therapy is mostly useless for this level of disorder, and if they can access services at all, they’re bounced around from one ineffective temporary stop-gap to another. Nancy Lanza’s accommodation of her shooter son no doubt had a lot to do with self-preservation.
    Yes, the dad’s leaving is understandable, but why did he get to be the one to make a break? This choice doesn’t seem to be as available, or as thinkable, for mothers. (Imagine the media reaction if Nancy Lanza had been the one to leave: “no wonder he turned out as a mass murderer … his moooother leeeeeeeft him! Mothers everywhere, take note!”) Honestly though, once dad has left, what’s the mum to do, since institutionalization is no longer possible except for the super-rich?


  18. What if Nancy Lanza enabled Adam, and enabled him to be extremely dependent on her, because she needed him in a way as a pseudo-partner who couldn’t leave her? What if Nancy didn’t know what her identity would be if she were not Hero Mom?


  19. There are probably tens of thousands of parents living desperately with messed-up kids because our current system either doesn’t provide accessible care/help, or current laws militate against “forcing” treatment on the mentally disabled.

    I don’t see what’s wrong with “forcing” someone to enter a program or get therapy.


  20. I’m uncomfortable with drawing such a strong analogy between a disability of this type and abuse. As Amelie said, autistic spectrum disorders and the kinds of sensory overloads that often cause outbursts are not easily addressed through talk therapy and drugs…and I’m truly not sure how much choice people have in controlling their reactions. (I’m talking about sudden-onset physical tantrums, screaming, etc., NOT premeditated murder with weapons.) Teaching people with autistic conditions to avoid physical, loud, or violent responses can take years and years if it’s possible. I have multiple adult male family members with learning disabilities and/or mental illness issues, and they are pretty stable, generally healthy adults now, but there were some quite literally terrifying times in their teenage years. I think on balance, long-term institutionalization would have really ruined their lives by making it impossible for them to develop the coping strategies and ways of interacting with others that eventually enabled them to participate more in adult society (although short-term inpatient treatment can be helpful for getting through crises).

    When you’re in it, how do you know if someone is heading for an upward or downward spiral? Would your level of accommodation change if you knew? What would the useful outcomes be of treating these issues as abuse, and caretakers as people needing to be free of abusive relationships? This isn’t a counterargument, just an attempt to figure out why the forumulation bothers me, and if I’m wrong to react that way.

    Disclaimer: I’m not sure exactly what disability and/or mental health issues we’re talking about with Adam Lanza, and how comparable they are. Some of the issues with food and loud noises sound awfully familiar, but shooting your mother and a school full of kids is certainly NOT common among people with autistic spectrum disorders. Don’t want to engage too much in armchair diagnosis, maybe some of his issues could’ve been better addressed through psychiatric means.


  21. anonymous grad:
    Some of the issues with food and loud noises sound awfully familiar, but shooting your mother and a school full of kids is certainly NOT common among people with autistic spectrum disorders.

    This seems to me to be a really important distinction and commenters above have addressed both issues. There is a health care problem in the US that militates against suitable treatment and support for both the mother and son in this case. There is also a destructive culture of guns and glorification of (certain kinds of) violence that facilitates mass murder using guns. It seems important not to conflate these and not to lose sight of one for the sake of the other,


  22. I personally don’t blame the father for staying out of the murderer’s life. (Isn’t that just sensible advice when one has an abusive and controlling family member: stay away?!?) Perhaps he recognized that at some point little if anything could be done, esp. with a mother who accommodated the murderer so extensively. I think it’s probably a sign of mental health that the father and the other son detached from the abusive and controlling environment that the mother apparently assented to.


    I agree with you on most subjects, Historiann, but disagree with most of this.

    It’s interesting – power dynamic analysis and increasing the overall visibility of DV, particularly male-on-female romantic partner violence, was such a necessary and important part of the 20th century American feminist movement/s.

    BUT. That doesn’t mean that every truism we’ve come to accept about DV is true, effective, or feminist.

    Is “stay away” actually the best advice for those with abusive or controlling family? Hey, sometimes. But sometimes it isn’t. And the question really ought to be about a) prevention; b) support and healing for victim; c) support and healing for perpetrator, not “advice to victim/would be victim.” And those questions are about community and culture, not about victims. They’re about acceptable behavior, about communities intervening to protect people who are being abused, and about finding a way for families to heal and grow whenever possible. This is true about child abuse, woman abuse, violent sibling dynamics, etc. It’s all work that feels a great deal messier than “leave him, sister,” but then, it tends to be more successful, too.

    Yes, “stay away/how can we help you/him stay away” is embedded in a lot of DV law and responses. But the story never starts OR ends there. As a feminist response to DV, “stay away” goes about as far as those extensive “how not to get raped” lists. Yep, it sure sounds smart not to be inebriated in an alley alone late at night. But dishing out that kind of advice is neither an effective rape prevention strategy or a feminist response to rape.

    Also, while enabling is problematic and I agree that Eternal Caretaker would be a bad enough role even if it weren’t as gendered as it is…

    Why would we assume that a father who brought a child with some pretty serious issues into the world, who apparently largely abandoned this flawed child – who at the very least apparently left him in the FT custody of some “enabler” – is NOT largely to blame for this snap? (if someone is to blame)

    Why is more direct trauma perceived as less damaging than “enabling”? Research doesn’t seem to indicate that trauma is so benign. Do we ignore the significance of abandonment trauma in favor of some “enablement deterioration effect” because abandonment is masculine and enabling is feminine?

    Is it really a sign of mental health to rid yourself of your mentally ill minor child (in the father’s case) and start up a new, happier family? Of mental illness to stay with an adult child who clearly wasn’t self-sufficient (in the mother’s case)?

    I doubt this calculation so clear-cut. And even if our attitudes about classic male-on-female DV were more evolved (beyond “leave” advice to victims toward community responsibility for prevention, assistance, and restoration), I still don’t think the lessons of adult romantic partners map so neatly onto this situation.

    Is the ultimate conclusion really that some humans are so problematic that their parents should decide to ignore and abandon them?

    Or is the real issue that our society could better support parents and children facing this situation in a million ways — and not only financial, which wasn’t an issue here but usually is — and isn’t?


  23. (to clarify, “largely abandoned this flawed child” is a term meant to embody the attitude of some parents who abandon – not mine toward disability)


  24. Why is more direct trauma perceived as less damaging than “enabling”? Research doesn’t seem to indicate that trauma is so benign. Do we ignore the significance of abandonment trauma in favor of some “enablement deterioration effect” because abandonment is masculine and enabling is feminine


  25. One issue this conversation touches on is the extent to which disabled people are entitled to individual civil rights. It’s now self-evident that they are and the law treats them as such (as Susan pointed out above, it’s very difficult to commit adults involuntarily to institutions or even to compel counseling, medication, etc.), but what are their reciprocal responsibilities if they want to be cared for in a home by family members? I don’t think this is an unreasonable question, esp. re: the toll of care work on women’s time, labor, and health in particular.

    I have friends who are now coping with the mental illness of a family member. They are all having to decide what kind of relationship they want to have with the afflicted person, and being self-protective is something that their therapists are emphasizing, which I find very interesting. In this case, the police were called more than once to help deal with the afflicted person by different family members. I think this is because the family in question had a clear sense of boundaries of acceptable behavior, and disorderly, violent, or other potentially harmful behavior was unacceptable to them in their homes.

    It is agonizing to them to contemplate a future without this formerly very loving and close family member, but in order for them to live peacefully, that is what they must do. The afflicted person is now in an institutional long-term care setting (and seems pretty calm and settled now), and the rest of the family is doing its best to reimagine the rest of their lives.


  26. what are their reciprocal responsibilities if they want to be cared for in a home by family members? I don’t think this is an unreasonable question, esp. re: the toll of care work on women’s time, labor, and health in particular.

    This I agree with 100%, Historiann.

    And of course self-protection is critical.

    These situations are the very worst thing. Finding answers is supremely hard and the “right” answer varies over the course of time and is extremely dependent on individual family patterns and community resources.

    But as outsiders to a given situation I think we need to be conscious that our position as the third party does not remove us from responsibility. Too often, those outside a given dynamic see it as victim/perpetrator or ill/caregiver and let our flawed social approach to the unwell…approaches which exacerbate every kind of violence, which let it thrive unnoticed…slip behind comforting tropes like mother-blaming.

    “Cut him off” is an act of violence. It can certainly be an excusable act of self-defense and the very best choice of the choices left.

    But why do we put people in this position.

    Who is it that can have a discussion about a sick child’s responsibilities as a minor and as an adult to participate in his/her care and navigate a fair plan? Where is the community that steps in when they see something “off” and knows how to talk about it, knows where to point family to, years and years before the Big Crisis?

    Where is that robust system of first responders that we know we need in every community in order to prevent an arms race and vigilantism? Without first responders for criminals, we’d have a lot more defensive acts of violence.

    But there simply are no mental health police. And the reason for that is not because we want to protect the civil rights of sick people. It’s that we don’t prioritize that kind of earnest intervention.

    Every criminal has civil rights and we still manage to fund 911 responses when someone breaks into our house.

    Contrast: even when police receive “mental health training,” we’re talking about fewer than 4 hours in most cases. And the number of police stations that cut social workers following the recession is staggering.

    On the topic of more robust responses to domestic violence (and any lessons applicable to potentially violent domestic mental health situations), you may find some of Donna Coker’s work interesting.


  27. According to the police report, Adam Lanza’s father and brother didn’t cut him off, it was the other way around.

    I grew up in a home with a mentally abusive parent. Among other things, that experience leaves me feeling uncomfortable about the difference between “survival strategy” and “enabling,” particularly in light of power differences among participants in such a situation. And it is true that despite the problems I love that parent and appreciate many things about hir.

    It is agonizing to them to contemplate a future without this formerly very loving and close family member, but in order for them to live peacefully, that is what they must do.

    Well, it is what they have chosen to do. I wonder though if it is really living peacefully. I know a family who gave a mentally unwell child up to the state because they did not have the financial or physical resources to give hir the care ze needed or to keep everybody safe. They learned everything they could about the condition (and each new diagnosis), moved to a new state for the higher level of state-funded care, etc., etc.. But it was too much and the situation became unsafe for everybody. I would not say that in giving up the child, peace is what they found.


  28. Free therapy and stress management for parents, caregivers, mentally ill, soldiers, struggling, confused, students, etc. through a Medicare for All model. Real vacations for people, a stable economy, real wages, places people can go when their lives are changed by tragedy (if that is “community” or something less liable to scapegoating and witch hunts). And fix whatever the hell is going so wrong with so many young men.


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