Newtown massacre prompts national discussion on mental illness

Liza Long is concerned for the safety of her other children.
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As investigators try to determine what prompted the massacre, the mother of a 13-year-old boy with mental illness says she fears her son will do the same thing. She wrote an online essay now behind a storm of debate.

A local child development expert weighs in on the warning signs of a young person in need of critical help, and other steps concerned parents should take.

"I love my son, but he terrifies me."

The words of a Boise, Idaho mother are sparking intense debate over children with mental illness.

Her 13-year-old is diagnosed with ADHD and Intermittent Explosive Disorder and she lives in fear of his violent threats.

"Every time I hear about a mass shooting, I think about my son and I wonder if someday I'll be that mom," said the concerned mother, reading her essay on The Today Show on NBC.

For as many who applaud that mom for speaking out, others say her comments are overly general and paint children with a broad brush.

"This is a mother who is very concerned, and has right to be very concerned about her child," said Dr. Marilyn Bull, an expert in child neuro-development at Riley Hospital who is on the national board of directors of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"When a child has explosive behavior and is threatening to harm their loved adults, we have reason to be concerned and need to be seeking appropriate mental health resources for that youngster," she added.

Dr. Bull says anxiety, out of proportion reactions, and unusual behavior are some of the first signs. But she says there is no data to say that children with ADHD or autism are prone to carry out mass shootings.

But she warns parents about exposure to violence.

"Video and violent media of all sorts escalates the tendencies to violence and also tends to desensitize," said Bull, citing recent studies on the topic.

Dr. Bull says parents must push beyond the stigma and shame of mental illness get help and get guns out of the house.

"There should be no firearms in the homes where children live and play. And especially true if it's a potentially explosive situation," concluded Dr. Bull.

Parents looking for mental health services for their children can start with their pediatricians or school psychologists for referrals.

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