Editor: Six. That is the number of young McLean residents I know personally who have died from an opiate overdose.
This number does not capture the countless more young people I know from my town who have survived an overdose and whose lives have been ruined by addiction. Nor does it represent those who have died by suicide or who suffer from debilitating mental illness.
I was raised in McLean and attended McLean High School. I live here with my parents as I finish my law-school education. I work as a law clerk with the mental-health division of a local public-defender service. In my career thus far, I have worked with youth and adults experiencing mental illness and addiction, and am deeply familiar with how a lack of rehabilitation services deprives people who are suffering from the chance to heal.
I had a safe, loving experience growing up in McLean. Despite my comfortable upbringing, many of my peers were not so lucky. They suffered from addiction and mental illness, and were hindered in seeking help because of stigma and shame. There is a pitiful lack of services for youth suffering from these diseases, and those who seek help often are unable to access it, even in our affluent community.
I am often embarrassed when I tell people where I’m from. When I mention McLean, many people wrinkle their noses, assuming I am a snob before they’ve had a chance to get to know me. I fight back against this stereotype, but after witnessing my community’s reaction to the possible opening of Newport Academy, I fear the stereotype is grounded in truth.
I acknowledge that the idea of a group home is frightening to the more traditional and even close-minded members of our community. But I know I speak on behalf of other McLean residents when I say that prejudice against youth experiencing addiction and mental illness has no place in our community.
Many of these fears – that the homes will be dangerous, that they will change the character of our neighborhoods, that they will be a commercial enterprise in a residential area – are unfounded and, frankly, ignorant.
Three residential homes on a quiet back street is not a commercial enterprise. Youth trying to rehabilitate are not to be feared. For-profit community-based treatment centers are a necessary resource in a state with a deficit of mental-health services.
I know some may disagree, but I will not allow largely unfounded concerns about traffic to act as a cover for the real reason for opposition. I will not stand by in silence and allow this ignorance to proliferate.
These fear-mongering sentiments do not represent the community I know and love.
Our town includes many, many young people who need the kind of help Newport Academy provides. By rejecting Newport, you send a message that the stigma they feel is real, and that they should not seek the help they desperately need. But by accepting Newport, you send a message that McLean is an open, progressive community that welcomes struggling youth seeking treatment with open arms.
Michaela Lovejoy, McLean