By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times Communities
RICHMOND, VA, January 2, 2013 – As New Year’s celebrations come to a close, I’d like to encourage everyone to remember the achievements, the sorrows, and the many important discussions and debates from 2012. The tragedy which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School left so many of us stunned, speechless, and simply heartbroken. There isn’t much I can say that hasn’t already been expressed in response to the Newtown, Connecticut shootings and to the other recent violence from Colorado to New York City.
I would like to begin the New Year by continuing an important discussion which was born out of these horrific events, and that is the need for greater access to mental healthcare. Setting these tragedies aside for the moment, I want to express the general need for greater access to mental healthcare and for more comprehensive education about mental illness, especially for students, parents, and teachers.
As a survivor of child trafficking, I can speak from experience about the lack of appropriate mental healthcare available to me during my school-age years. The first signs of depression and anxiety appeared in late elementary school. By intermediate and middle school, I was exhibiting full-blown rage, which was directed both internally and externally. My behavior was above and beyond the angst experienced by a typical teenager, but neither I nor my family had the education to understand or recognize this.
I needed help. Real help, professional help.