The Price of Silence: A Mom's Perspective on Mental IllnessThe Price of Silence: A Mom’s Perspective on Mental Illness by Liza Long
Published by Hudson Street Press

From the publisher:

Liza Long is the mother of a child with an undiagnosed mental disorder. When she heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, her first thought was, What if my son does that someday? She wrote an emotional response to the tragedy, which the Boise State University online journal posted as I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother. The post went viral, receiving 1.2 million Facebook likes, nearly 17,000 tweets, and 30,000 emails.

Now, in “The Price of Silence “she takes a devastating look at how we address mental illness, especially in children, who are funneled through a system of education, mental health care, and juvenile detention that leads far too often to prison. In the end she asks one central question: if there’s a poster child for cancer, why can’t there be one for mental illness? The answer: the stigma. Liza Long is speaking in a way that we cannot help but hear, and she won’t stop until something changes.”

I wanted to read this book because I, like most people in the country, am saddened and shocked by the school shootings that have happened over the last fifteen or so years, and my background in psychology has me absolutely convinced that mental illness is the culprit for most (if not all) of these horrific acts. I am not a mother, but I cannot imagine what it might be like to be a parent of a child that chooses a crime like this, and I was interested to hear from the point of view of a mother who believes – as Long does – that her child is capable of something like this, if not under proper medical care.

It’s clear from the very beginning of Long’s book that she is one hundred percent devoted to her children and would do absolutely anything to ensure that they get the love, attention, and proper medical care they need and deserve. In addition to her son who has mental illness (she calls him Michael in this book, though that’s not his real name), she has a son older than him and a younger daughter and son. In addition to being a full-time working mother, she is also divorced from the childrens’ father. To say that her life is overwhelming is an understatement. When she describes dealing with Michael’s terrifying rages and tantrums, threats and physical altercations, it’s almost too much to comprehend.

What was most enlightening to me about The Price of Silence, and I think a lot of readers will agree, is just how backwards and unhelpful the mental health system in the United States truly is. Long describes a world in which it’s better for a mentally ill child to go to jail than be subject to whatever psychological help her insurance will pay for (usually none). She describes a life in which she takes her son to doctor after doctor and is told time and time again that he’s just being a boy and that hitting, screaming, and terrorizing his younger sister are normal behaviors for a child his age. She describes a world in which being white and middle class puts you at a distinct advantage in the mental health care your family can receive, but even that care is paltry at best – so what about the rest of America, the ones who don’t fall into that space of privilege?

I think that Long is incredibly brave for writing this book and I definitely think it’s a necessary contribution to the body of work on this topic. Since I applaud her so sincerely for her courage in writing about her family and her son so candidly, I don’t want to say much that’s negative about the book but I also have to be honest. I found some of the book to be redundant and it seemed like (at times) she kept repeating the same message over and over again. I also wasn’t wowed by the style of writing – I kept reading it because the information itself was fascinating, not because I was particularly compelled by the way that information was presented.

That being said, however, I do recommend The Price of Silence to everyone. It’s important to at least hear the voice of someone else before you begin judging them. I know parents with unruly children are judged instantly – maybe people should stop and think that perhaps that child has something deeper going on than just bad parenting. If nothing else, this book reminded me that you never know what someone is going through until you hear it from them, until you walk in their shoes. And of course, having an untreated mental illness is in no way an excuse for committing unimaginable crimes, but it is important to understand that there’s usually more to those criminals than simply being horrible people. They are usually suffering immensely before making the devastating choice to retaliate with violence. Anyway, The Price of Silence is good! It’s a very important book and I think you should read it.