Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Answer Is in Our Hearts

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Answer Is in Our Hearts

I write to express my support for Newport Academies and the rehabilitation facilities set to open on Davidson Road in McLean. While I currently live elsewhere, I grew up on Davidson Road in McLean and I have been paying close attention from afar to the outcry from many adults in my hometown.

I have often felt uncomfortable coming from McLean, the epitome of wealth and privilege. I know that I was lucky to grow up there but I also struggle knowing that the opportunities I was afforded are ones that most people do not have access to. I’m often disappointed that many people in McLean are willing to exclude the underprivileged, despite claiming to have progressive values. This discomfort and shame has been especially heightened these past few weeks as I’ve watched the reaction to the rehabilitation homes opening on Davidson Road.

I cried watching the clips from the meeting at the high school in which community members heckled the brave individuals who came forward to tell their very personal stories of struggling with mental health and addiction. And I seethed when my mom sent me a text of the sign at the top of our street that read ‘say no to the drug compound.’ The ignorance on display is not only disheartening, but it arouses unwarranted fears that play into harmful stereotypes about people who struggle with behavioral health conditions.

I worked in mental health advocacy for two years and now work at a homeless shelter with individuals experiencing substance use and mental health conditions. I am intimately familiar with the dearth of resources for people with behavioral health needs. Even in an affluent town like McLean, finding available treatment options is next to impossible.

Public, comprehensive, community-based treatment is undoubtedly the best solution, but given the slow pace of progress on behavioral health issues, private companies like Newport Academy are stepping up to fill a huge gap in services.

But let’s put Newport Academy aside for just one minute, because I think there is a bigger issue here. The lack of resources is something that people will only encounter if they decide to seek treatment, if they can first get past the shame and stigma that our society has towards those with behavioral health conditions. If I were a teenager in McLean right now and I saw my parents or my neighbors reacting this way to this service coming into town, there is absolutely no way I would seek help for a behavioral health need. I would suffer in silence and it would get worse. Maybe I would even become a statistic. Part of the highest teenage suicide rate in history or yet another life taken by the opioid epidemic.

I know the response to this will be something along the lines of, “Genevieve, we are just concerned about how Newport Academy has handled this acquisition, you are completely mischaracterizing us, we care about those with mental illness and substance use.” I will get people explaining to me the intricacies of land policy, water runoff theories, traffic concerns, and more. But on an issue of such gravity, I think we all have to look into our hearts and ask whether we’re letting ourselves take refuge in secondary concerns. These arguments come off as thinly veiled discrimination from individuals who are scared of having “these kind of people” in their backyard. I truly hope that community members recognize these arguments for what they are and that we stand up together for Newport Academies and the important services that they will offer. If we don’t, what kind of message are we sending to young people in McLean?

Genevieve Mulligan