Open letter on mental health

Published 10:01 am Friday, November 5, 2021

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By Howie Soucek

Editor’s Note: Soucek originally sent this letter to the School Board, superintendent, City Council and others.

Recently, I attended a really enjoyable stage show at the River Road Farm venue here in town, and the icing on the cake for me was that the net proceeds were being contributed to the “Lighting the Way” project of the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, for a regional pediatric mental health hospital and outpatient center to open next year.

The website for the Lighting the Way project offers a grim indication of the severity of the problems of mental health faced by the children in our own region of Virginia: “Our community is in crisis. One out of every five children has a diagnosable mental health condition. While early intervention can make a life-or-death difference, fewer than 25% of those children receive treatment. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for children ages 10-24 …. And more than one-third of visits to primary care pediatricians are for mental health concerns.”

Howie Soucek

With a longstanding interest in public education, I have in recent years developed a special concern about the mental health of our youth, as this has such a bearing upon a student’s academic performance, physical health, and behaviors exhibited in school, as well as the student’s future well-being and success (and not to forget about the impact of all this upon the entire community!).

Like most communities, we have some great classroom teachers, social caseworkers, law enforcement officers, etc., who can each be as good as they can be, and yet this is not enough to even begin to solve such a deep-seated, complicated problem. And for anyone to simply blame such as “poor parenting” or “weak teachers” accomplishes nothing, except to generate more ill will and division in an already overly contentious society.

Our best chance for progress toward a solution, I believe, is for an integration of effort across the community, spearheaded by our school system in coordination with Social Services and with the strong support of City Council. 

Integral to progress also would be the active involvement of area organizations such as our many churches, civic groups, the Chamber, United Way, YMCA, Police Department, Parks & Recreation, MLK Community Center, among many others. We must come together!

Further, my son Mathias, a psychologist in Chesapeake, is a graduate of Franklin City Public Schools who went on to earn his doctorate in psychology at Regent University. He has told me that our school system may want to explore the possibility of some kind of collaboration with Regent University’s psychology department regarding the mental health needs of our students here in Franklin. I have made contact with the psychology department there and found them to have a community outreach program and a willingness to talk with us about a cooperative effort that could benefit our children. 

To get the ball rolling, I would be happy to put the appropriate, interested parties in contact with each other by way of an introductory email so that a dialog could be initiated, perhaps by way of a Zoom meeting. Therefore, I ask that the addressees kindly reply to this letter.

The Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255.  But proactively, we must do much better at listening to our youth, at talking with them about their troubles, and at encouraging them. Our children are our precious responsibility, and they are waiting for us to act.