By Monica Henson
Readers of this blog who have seen my previous pieces know me as an educator. Those who follow me on Twitter know me as a passionate advocate of educational opportunities for the students least able to seek resources for themselves.
Today, I am writing as the mother of a young adult who has been through the hell of serious mental illness and come out on the other side. I am writing as an educator who has served many students who have been in the mental health system. I am writing as a human being with basic, common decency.
Sadly, decency is sorely lacking in the bare-knuckle brawl that is the American political arena, including our own state.
Students with mental health issues, estimated to be as many as 20 percent of the population (and I believe that to be a conservative estimate), are often the targets of bullying. I am writing to express my outrage at an adult who has demonstrated a textbook example of the kind of bullying that has driven young people, tragically, to take their own lives.
This week, the Brian Kemp for Governor Campaign, through its spokesman, made a comment questioning the mental stability of Republican Sen. Renee Unterman, saying that she “needs to take her meds before she hurts someone.” I have yet to see an apology or retraction by the campaign of this statement.
It is worth noting the comment came on the birthday of Sen. Unterman late son, Zak, who tragically committed suicide at age 25 after a struggle with mental illness. Sen. Unterman wrote a poignant Facebook post about the Kemp campaign slur.
It is well-known and has been for years that Sen. Unterman sought treatment for depression after her divorce. Rather than being bullied and ridiculed for seeking treatment for a mental health issue that millions of people struggle with daily, she should be commended for her transparency and willingness to share her struggle to help others in similar circumstances.
I am the mother of an adult daughter who struggled for years with serious, debilitating mental illness. Thankfully, she has benefited from expert psychiatric treatment and medications that enable her to master the condition, and she is now a scholarship college student studying social work and criminal justice, planning to work with troubled youth.
She doesn't hesitate to share her story or allow me to share it. She is proud of how far she has come, and so am I. She is a young woman who has to “take her meds” in order to manage a devastating illness that led her to substance abuse, cutting her arms that still bear scars, and overdoses in an effort to self-medicate a condition that took years to get accurately diagnosed. Thank God that she “takes her meds,” and thank God that they enable her to be a productive member of society who is going to do good and noble work.
Georgia Deputy State Superintendent Garry McGiboney has been a longtime champion of improving school climate, addressing bullying, and providing support for children with mental health issues, speaking to state, regional, and national audiences about these issues. Our two foremost educational leaders, along with the General Assembly, have listened and acted on his recommendations. Gov. Nathan Deal released last year the report of the Commission on Children's Mental Health, a commission created via executive order to provide recommendations for improving state mental health services for children.
State Superintendent Richard Woods recently announced DOE is funding a million dollar initiative to aid schools in better managing conditions for students struggling with mental health problems.
I don’t want the mental health needs of the public, including our children, to be dismissed by anyone, least of all a state leader. Too many children face this sort of bullying and ridicule on the playground; they should not witness it in politics.