Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Serving a Need Swept Under Rugs

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Serving a Need Swept Under Rugs

As a long time resident of McLean, McLean High School (MHS) Alumnus and parent of current MHS students I feel I need to share my opinion on the recent heated debate surrounding Newport Academy. I see both sides. While I don't condone Newport Academy, I see the need for and benefit of residential treatment facilities. Whether the cluster of three Newport Academy homes or even Newport Academy's operation should be afforded the by right protection of a Group Home is ultimately not up to me and in my opinion does not address the root cause. Why are residential treatment facilities run by for-profit companies (Newport Academy is not the only one out there) popping up everywhere in residential neighborhoods?

Regardless of the outcome with Newport, the big elephant in the room remains the answer to this question. Well, this didn't happen overnight. This all started decades ago with the de-institutionalization and privatization of mental health care which included stripped funding for mental health care as a result of lower taxes.

Then after an investigation of mental health facilities in Virginia and other states, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a complaint against Virginia and other states. In February 2011, the DOJ submitted a findings letter to Virginia, concluding that Virginia failed to provide services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs. The "most integrated setting" interpreted to mean single-family residential communities.

Then in 2015 Virginia was called out by the DOJ for not trying hard enough to comply. Meanwhile, teen mental illness remains the least discussed topic among parents -- the stigma of mental illness is real … the unfounded fear of those with mental illness is real. Anxiety, depression, anorexia and ADD/ADHD...these are all mental health disorders. Not all teens need residential treatment for these mental health disorders but some do.

The mental health crisis (especially for teens) should be everyone's concern and finding a solution (i.e., greater oversight and regulation but not necessarily exclusion of residential treatment facilities) will require collaboration and likely compromise. We need to work together to find a solution that serves not only our community but the mentally ill teens in need of our support as well.

Let's take the opportunity to work together to de-stigmatize mental illness too (remember, the brain is an organ and treating mental illness is just like treating heart disease).

We do need better mental healthcare for teens...but I don't think this should be something where we only seek to "treat" mental illness after the fact. Shouldn't it be instead something that we also seek to "prevent" as well?

I mean....we take our kids as early as 3 years old to the dentist just to make sure they have perfect teeth and to prevent cavities and gingivitis; we continue to do annual preventative care visits to the dentist. Our kids have annual physicals ("well" visits) with the pediatrician to ensure they are physically healthy.

Why shouldn't every child also have annual mental health visit to ensure they are mentally healthy too? If we work to prevent mental illness (just like we work to prevent any other illness) and/or treat it before it gets to the point where they require residential treatment facilities, then we wouldn't be where we are today.

Private equity firms have seen the lucrative business potential and are investing big money to enable the likes of Newport Academy to purchase multi-million dollar homes in McLean and surrounding Vienna/Great Falls.

Let's face it, these for-profit residential treatment facilities are here because they are serving a need that got swept under the rugs by everyone.

Christiane Lourenco