Not the job of teachers, police

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

I had planned to write about how we expect way too much of our teachers and police people. As I began to think about it, I saw a scene that has remained etched in my brain for nearly 40 years.

In 1978, I moved to southeastern Virginia to take a job in a Community Mental Health Center. By the early 1980s, funding was being cut. There was an increased reliance on being able to bill insurance companies and the available “treatment for all” disappeared.

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I sat at my desk one morning and watched as a quarter of the staff walked down the hallway to the right with a job and back to the left without.

I believe a fairly straight line can be drawn from “Defunding Mental Health” to our unrealistic expectations of teachers and police as we have asked them to pick up the slack. Following the thread to the current situation in which we have many people lacking skills to deal with difficult feelings. We find ourselves being unable to get appropriate care for an emotionally distressed person or a psychologically challenged person without herculean effort and still often being met with failure.

When state Sen. Creigh Deeds was trying to find an inpatient bed, without success, for his son who was in crisis, the end result was an assault on the state senator and the death of his son. If a state senator couldn’t get the help needed, what are the chances for the rest of us?

The major areas of focus for mental health workers, teachers and police are different, taking time and experience to master in each field. Being called upon to pick up someone else’s job over decades, without some of the specialized skills and supports necessary, seems to have contributed to some of the challenges we now face.

I would love to see a “reconfiguration of funding” that increases the focus on addressing mental health issues and relieves some of the burden teachers and police have carried for far too long.

Jo Weaver