What Parents Of Children With Mental Illness Think About After A School Shooting

by Kacy Andrews
Originally Published: 
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I can no longer remain silent or stick my head in the sand in order not to piss off the slew of conservative friends and family in my circle or to get in heated debates with them that I know will go nowhere, so what’s the point anyway, right?

I can no longer worry about the stigma of “coming out” about this because I can not pretend that I’m not scared shitless that someday it will be my child who somehow gets ahold of one of these guns and does something unspeakable.

I’m the mother of an 8-year-old mentally ill child. Bipolar to be exact. He has been obsessed with guns since the tender age of 2, and we are not a pro-gun, gun-owning family.

He draws photos of them, talks about them, turns his fingers into guns and “shoots” me and others often. He tells me he wants me (and my husband) dead more times than I care to count. Says he wants to “see me in a grave” and “blow my head off.”

Often times, when he is more lucid and horrified by his actions and words, his anger is self-directed and he wants to kill himself. And to be fair it’s not just guns, he’s sought out our knives during fits until we finally hid them out of plain sight. By the time my child turned two, I had not one, but two, black eyes as a result of his fits of rage.

He only does this when he’s in one of his manic-depressive fits of rage. When he’s not raging, he’s the sweetest most loving child, so much so that most our friends and relatives don’t even know he’s battling a mental illness. And if they do, they don’t know the degree of his and our despair. They don’t live with this child and they don’t see what we live with daily — mostly because we don’t talk about it for a variety of reasons. Those we do tell just think it’s because of our “bad parenting” — we aren’t strict enough, haven’t spanked him enough, and/or we have spoiled him.

He was first diagnosed at the age of 5 when we finally stopped saying “Oh, he’ll outgrow this someday — it’s just his age” and we took him to see his first psychiatrist who diagnosed him with a mood disorder and ADHD.

3 years, 10 different pharmaceuticals, 3 psychiatrists, 5 therapists and 1 hospital stay later… my son still is raging, and we are still struggling to find him the support he needs to live without these demons in his head.

We are not bad parents. We do not spoil our child. We are doing the best we can for him with very little support from our country’s mental health care system — which clearly is even more broken than I once imagined. Especially when one of our country’s top children’s mental institutions released our son worse off than when we admitted him.

We have excellent insurance through my husband’s union, yet most of the top doctors and therapies don’t take insurance of any kind and it’s incredibly expensive for us to go out of pocket.

The stigma and lack of knowledge surrounding mental health is astounding. Since I’ve come out about his illness, strangers mostly have said my son needs a “good beating” or to be locked up and is a danger to our society. A good beating, which some call discipline, does nothing for mental illness. They also say their kids should not associate with him. Yet my son actually is extremely bright/gifted, very well-liked at school, has lots of friends, and no behavioral outbursts there which can be common for bipolar. He only explodes at home, his safe place, after holding it together all day.

My 8 year-old son, adopted at birth which is a whole other stigma conversation for a later time, wants to become a genetic engineer after watching X-Men. After researching on Wikipedia about the human genome, totally unprompted on his own, he asks, “If I was born with my genes that have anger problems in them, why doesn’t my body adapt?”

Then getting very sad, he starts to cry, “My anger problems make me feel different from everyone else.”

After our heartbreak, my husband answers, ”One of the things you learn as you grow up is everyone has something that makes them feel different.”

I’m in countless support groups of parents of children with mental illness who are all posting and talking about these same fears about our sick children somehow getting their hands on guns someday. The irony is a very small percentage of the shootings are done by someone with mental illness. Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent one percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book Gun Violence and Mental Illness published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.

Why anyone needs to own a gun boggles my brain, but I understand it’s a “right” for Americans to bear arms. Even though this amendment was put in place back in the day when we had to hunt for food and protect ourselves from tyranny, many argue this is still the case.

Fine, but back then it was rifles and muskets which, to my limited knowledge of guns, takes a hell of a lot more time to load than killing machines with 100 round magazines.

Research shows gun control works. Countries such as the UK, Japan, Australia and Germany all have taken dramatic steps to regulate gun ownership in the wake of similar mass shootings and it’s worked reducing their homicide rates significantly.

My fellow Americans — particularly those who continue to support the NRA and any politicians doing nothing about our nation’s gun and mental illness problems — you have left me in the position of “hoping and praying” that someday my son will not somehow get his hands on a gun and do the unthinkable to himself or anyone else. I hope and pray you will think about that next time you go to vote. In the meantime, let’s support our youth who are rising up and allowing their voices to be heard.

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