By Isabella Petroni
FRAMINGHAM – Today is World Mental Health Day.
COVID-19 has once again taught us that our mental health is just as important as our physical health. It is something that many in the upcoming generations have known and have been preaching to our elders and our parents.
A sound mind and a sound body are necessary to function. COVID-19 hasn’t made this easy.
While mental health professionals are still working during the pandemic, not everybody has the access to take care of their minds. Not all have mental health as part of their insurance.
Framingham is no different.
Nearly half of the children in the Framingham school system have English as a Second Language. A quarter of the children are currently English Language Learners. A fifth of the children are students with disabilities. Nearly two-fifths of all children are economically disadvantaged.
In total, that makes Framingham have every two in three children qualify for being high needs based on the Massachusetts Department of Education data. All of these populations are higher percentages than the percentages of the rest of the state.
All of these factors lead to the problem of lack of access to mental health services.
This pandemic has shown that rugged American individualism must be left in the past of our nation. The idea that someone can “pull up their bootstraps” and achieve the American Dream has been disproved through the pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, and the racial reconciliation the country has been experiencing for the past few months.
The City of Framingham must do better. It must provide mental health services to the youth of this city.
The Framingham Department of Health is not just responsible for providing services to its residents solely on physical health. It must provide mental health services to those in this community who cannot afford it.
To do so, the City must provide jobs to mental health professionals on its payroll.
The City of Framingham and the Spicer Administration needs to create mental health clinics to serve all of Framingham’s residents.
While, the budget steps take time, the Framingham Department of Health must reach out to mental health professionals who are willing to give their time to help serve their community, to create mental health services available to all during this pandemic.
The City of Framingham must also partner with the local school systems such as the Framingham Public Schools, the Keefe Regional Technical School District, McAuliffe Charter School, and others. They should create a network of mental health professionals already present in these institutions, such as guidance counselors and school psychologists.
The important thing is that this partnership should not go away once the pandemic does.
The right to have a healthy mind is something that is guaranteed to everyone. We should not forget that.
We cannot return to normal when our normal represents a broken system designed only to work for the elite few. The system was designed not to allow the poor, the working class, and communities of color to access this right. Framingham must step up and do better.
Suicide rates at Framingham High School have been steadily increasing. Most of these attempted and successful suicides also represent a small Framingham High School population, meaning that many more are struggling in silence. We cannot allow for this practice to continue.
We must support our youth who currently have diagnosable mental illnesses (whether they are diagnosed or not). We must stop the stigmatization of mental illness and indeed allow the next generation and the generations afterward to come into their own in our city, our state, our nation, and our world.
Isabella Petroni, 19, is a student at the University of New England, in a dual-degree program. She is the founder and the chair of the 13-member Framingham Youth Council.