But Liza came to prominence at a national level after a blog she wrote in the wake of the Newtown shootings went viral. The post, titled “I am Adam Lanza’s mother”, launched Liza, almost overnight, into a second career as an advocate for families of mentally ill children.
Since then Liza has become a somewhat reluctant TV personality. She doesn’t have a TV in the house and thinks it’s creepy to watch herself on television! In the last couple of weeks alone she has appeared on the Dr Oz show, has featured in People Magazine, and is regularly invited to comment on the need for greater mental health resources on CNN with Erin Burnett, Anderson Cooper, and others.
What’s your goal? What do you hope to achieve as a mental health advocate?
My goal, first and foremost, is to end the stigma attached to mental illness. Once we can end stigma by talking, by sharing, we can make some progress and make it no different to other illnesses.
Let’s take, for example, a disease like Parkinson’s Disease and then let’s take Bipolar Disorder, because both of those have been in the news recently due to Robin Williams’ tragic death. It’s one brain and it’s one conversation – that’s definitely the message I try to get out there. Brain disease is a disease like anything else. Why we treat illnesses above the neck differently to illnesses below the neck is kind of baffling to me.
For me the biggest message, and I think it’s a moral and a social justice problem, is that we treat people who have mental illness in prison. When someone has a heart attack they go to hospital, when someone has a brain attack they go to prison. People don’t want to hear that.
When people asked me why I had my 14 year old son arrested, and I tell them it’s the only way I can get him services, they laugh. They don’t believe it, they say it’s impossible. It’s a tragedy because there are treatments available; some people could do just fine with the right treatment and community support.
Do you envisage staying at Carrington College if the book and that side of your career takes off?
I actually do. I really enjoy my job with Carrington. I was a freelance writer for years, so to have something you’ve written take off, to work with a national publisher, to be on Dr. Oz and in People Magazine, is such a black swan; it’s really what every writer dreams of. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty amazing, and I’m really grateful for it, but I’m in a strange place because I do have a career plan, and this isn’t part of it. All this really came out of left field, almost overnight.
So no, I don’t have any immediate plans; I’m managing to handle my volunteer work, my advocacy work and my day job which I love. And I do love my job at Carrington, I hope that came through when we talked on the subject. I’m very passionate about it. I love my colleagues and the campus here. I will admit that I might be at a crossroads at some point, but right now I have no plans to make any changes.
I’m sure our students will want to know this…what are Dr. Oz and Anderson Cooper really like?
I love Anderson Cooper, and yes, his eyes really are that blue! That’s all I’m going to say about that! Erin Burnett at CNN is just a gem too; she pays so much attention to mental health issues, so I’ve been on her show several times.
Dr. Oz is warm, compassionate and sincere – He looked me right in the eyes and said “I’m a dad and this is important to me.” But honestly The Diane Rehm Radio Show on NPR was the biggest deal for me.
Everyone always wants to know what all this stuff is like, but I’m not someone who is super-impressed by celebrities. They’re just people like we are. Honestly I think it would be a horrible life being a celebrity. But it was great to have the national spotlight shining on mental health, for a while at least.
Finally, what advice do have for students who think they may be suffering from a mental health issue, such as depression?
Get help. Definitely talk to someone. Sometimes when you’re stuck in that space, people feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness. But asking for help when you’re dealing with a mental health issue is a sign of strength.
You’ve got to talk to someone, and that’s why, at Carrington, we have the ASPIRE program. That’s where I would advise students to turn first; and if you need to talk to someone right away use the words “I’m in crisis!” to make it really clear.
Thank you so much for your time Liza. I suggest that you read Liza’s article on our blog – Suicide Prevention 101 – because every college student should know what to watch for in themselves, in their friends, and how to get help.
While Liza is one of our valued colleagues, the views and opinions expressed in this blog post are entirely her own and in no way reflect the views of the institution.