Author Liza Long coming to Park City to speak about mental health
May 10, 2016
Author, mental health advocate and college English teacher Liza Long knows the challenge of raising a child who is mentally ill.
Her son Eric, now 16, began showing signs of bipolar disorder when he was 18 months old.
He would wake up screaming in the night from ear infections and carry out temper tantrums for hours.
"When he was 4, he would tell me he wanted to die," Long told The Park Record during a telephone interview from her home in Boise, Idaho. "We had several diagnoses that got to the point where we would call it ‘diagnoses roulette,’ because one week it would be the autism spectrum and the next week it would be oppositional defiant disorder and ADHD or intermittent explosive disorder." It was not only frustrating for Long, but for her son.
"When we got to the bipolar diagnosis, I remember him turning to me and saying, ‘Oh great. So it’s bipolar this week,’" Long said. "But that’s the one that actually stuck and the treatment that stuck. So, we are talking nine or 10 years from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis and finding effective treatment." When Connect Park City, a group that raises awareness of mental health issues, brings Long to town May 16, she will talk with parents at Parley’s Park Elementary at 9 a.m. and then with teachers and counselors at 4 p.m.
She will also host a question and answer session after the 6:30 p.m. screening of Jonathan D. Bucari’s drama "No Letting Go" at the Jim Santy Auditorium.
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Long, known for her Anarchist Soccer Mom blog and author of "The Price of Silence: A Mom’s Perspective of Mental Illness," will discuss how parents and counselors can advocate for children who are suffering from mental disorders.
"I feel for mental health counselors because they don’t have the support and resources they need," Long said. "Counselors are so overworked, but every time there is a tragedy in the foster care system, the counselors are blamed and my heart goes out to them."
Like the counselors, the public is asking parents to do superhuman things without providing tools and resources.
"People will ask how we are going to pay for all of this," Long said. "Well, we spend $80 billion on prisons, so I think we could divert some of those funds and keep these people out of jail in the first place.
"There are even studies that show that it is more cost-effective to treat people in the community than to force them to use juvenile justice and the emergency room," she said. "This is a costly and cruel way to treat a problem that doesn’t need to be treated this way."
Long has first-hand experience with her son Eric and she found that the United States’ mental health care system is fragmented.
"It’s spread across a variety of systems, so parents have to become experts in legal matters," she said. "They also have to become experts in education so they can get special education services for their kids. And, of course, they also need to become experts in health insurance policies regarding medical conditions, medication and other issues that this affects."
This can baffle a parent, but Long knows if the parents don’t advocate for their children, no one will.
The challenge, she says, is pinpointing the problem.
"When I was living it, I had no idea that my experience was extremely common," she said. "The reason why is that parents feel ashamed or are afraid to speak up and talk about what they’re going through."
After Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother before shooting 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012, Long posted her essay, "I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother," on her blog.
"I’ve been a writer and blogger for a long time, but in that moment, it was the outpouring of raw emotion and empathy for a dead mother, but also an awareness of the overwhelming tragedy of the entire situation," Long said. "It was also an understanding that the tragedy didn’t have to happen. The parents didn’t have to lose their children and the teachers didn’t have to lose their lives."
sharing her story, which went viral, Long connected with a community of advocates.
"That’s when I realized my story was quite common, all the way down to little details that included the onset of symptoms," she said.
When Matt Lysiak interviewed Long for his book "Newtown" he asked how she knew of the issues she had addressed in her blog.
"I said it was because that’s what I was living," Long said. "My kid wasn’t a bad kid and I wasn’t a bad mom. I was just trying to get services and all the people that helped me were interested in was crossing their Ts and filing their reports. "The only thing that separated me and Eric from Adam and Nancy Lanza was that Eric was in the juvenile justice system," Long said.
Eric had been in detention four times before he was 13.
"Every time it was from symptoms of a brain disease, and on the advice of social workers who said we would not get the services we sought unless he was put in the juvenile justice system," she said. "A lot of families have that story and if you’re horrified by that, you should be."
After Long’s blog went viral, a family court judge took her younger children from her.
"The judge said their older brother was a danger and that I could have my younger kids back if Eric went into residential treatment," she said. "I broke down and cried. I could only have two well kids or one sick child. And assuming that I came up with $100,000, I would have had to send him out of state, and none of his doctors thought that was the right call. That’s how absurd the system is."
The National Institute of Mental Health has issued a study that said one in five kids in the United States will be diagnosed with a serious and debilitating mental disorder before he or she turns 18, and this is something Long takes seriously.
"This affects everyone," she said. "It’s affecting the classroom, and we’re expecting our teachers, without resources or aids, to magically manage their classrooms with kids who are very disruptive.
"I feel the teachers are put at risk," she said. "If I was a teacher, I would contact my union and ask for some things to be put into place."
Connect Park City, an organization that is on a mission to destigmatize mental illness, raise awareness of existing behavioral health services and build public support for increased spending on behavioral health in Summit County, will bring Liza Long to Park City on May 16. For more information and a schedule, visit facebook.com/ConnectSummitCounty .
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