As we see students, along with their educators and administrators, forced back into the classrooms and schools where they cannot social distance, do not for one moment buy it when politicians say they are doing it for the good of youth mental health. Ask about their past record of providing funding for mental health services in schools. Did they go out of their way to ask for more social workers and school psychologists, or is this new rhetoric?
Do not believe them when they say they are doing it to relieve working families of childcare concerns. Ask about their past record on supporting paid parental leave, subsidized high quality childcare, increased minimum wages and access to higher education and job training. Does their support of working families seem sudden?
I can tell you Mike Pence's record on these issues, because he was the governor in my state while I was working in the provision of mental health care to youth, social support to youth and their families, and health education in Indiana schools. In each of these efforts, policies signed into law by this man thwarted my efforts. Not just in a vague way, but in particular ways that hindered my ability to provide the care that research tells us is best practice. Just like the US experience of the global pandemic he has been tasked with stewarding, the HIV crisis in Pence's home state ran out of control due to his late and ineffective policies, based in moralizing rather than science.
I am not at all denying that the past 5 months of distancing has been a burden on the mental health of our children, and all of us. I am therapist on the front lines of this pandemic. I see it--I live it, every moment of every day. I also know that the immense strain this puts on families, especially working moms, is real. I have worked in my communities my entire career on these issues. Those of us critiquing the return to "normal," as if that is even possible, are not denying these problems but are in fact, the people who have always seen these problems and have worked to address them. We are offended by the co-opting of our rhetoric by morally bankrupt individuals who suddenly wish to capitalize on the work we've asked them to partner with us on for generations. The photo is of me outside what is commonly referred to the as the birthplace of the social work profession, Hull House. It is one example, that dates from the 1800s, of the two-steps-forward-one-step-back work we have done to address these issues in our country for those most impacted by them. And for just as long, others who make more money and enjoy better benefits have stomped on our efforts and rolled their eyes at our "bleeding hearts"--until our language suits their public image. If you truly care about mental health, access to education, and the solubility of families, you are welcome at any time to join us in that generations-long fight.
As a therapist and someone who provides training and consultation to community groups, I have moments of pause when I share something that clearly states where I stand on an issue, a politician, or a value. Shouldn't therapists be blank slates? Creating a safe holding environment for any client who presents for care? And even as a facilitator of training, does stating my position take up too much space in the "classroom" for others learning? Maybe. Many of my colleagues would say so. Yet as a therapist who serves communities who are directly impacted by policy implementation and these creative and disingenuous turns of phrase, creating a safe space means broadcasting where I stand so clients have no question about their safety. As a practitioner of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, my work with clients asks them to name their core values, and to then build our treatment plan around that. To stand aloof from that process myself, too, is disingenuous.