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Parents need all the help they can get

It seems like a simple proposition: To deal with rising levels of student depression and suicide, Killingly was considering a mental health clinic inside its high school.

A grieving mother showed up at the Board of Education meeting, carrying the ashes of the son who had struggled with mental health issues for years.

Students spoke of the depression they had suffered in the era of COVID-19 lockdowns and school shootings.

Further, the state would fund the mental health clinic as part of recent legislation.

But in these days of suspicion, misinformation and political division, nothing is simple. With residents bitterly divided over the issue, the Board of Education rejected the clinic 6-3 in March.

Parents who supported the idea have appealed the vote to the state Board of Education.

To understand why anyone would deny high schoolers access to free counseling, you have to cast a wide rhetorical net.

The debate in Killingly was less about students' mental health than it was reflective of hot-button issues like parental control, abortion and contraceptives. Board members imagined students being counseled on abortion without parental consent.

Parents questioned therapy itself, suggesting psychology was a tool of the occult. Freud was evoked, as though counselors still employ his outdated methods.

The objections were emotional, not logical. Parents already fear they are losing control of their children. They see the world changing radically from their own youth, and time has dimmed their memories of how challenging high school can be.

But instead of giving adolescents a safe place to discuss their anxieties and fears, the adults' instinct is to double-down. Parental authority must not be challenged. Outsiders are a threat.

In a perfect world, home would be a refuge for teenagers struggling to fit in, do well academically and plan for a future. But for some students, home is no more of a sanctuary than high school halls.

How many of these parents who oppose the mental health clinic regularly talk to their children about sex, drugs, bullying, or any other difficult issues? How many know how to help a teen who is depressed or suicidal?

Sadly, for a small minority, parents are worse than silent: They are the root of the problem. With no clinic, what happens to the student who is the victim of parental abuse, physical or psychological? Of incest?

Too often, teenagers' problems don't surface until a crisis. They can no longer tolerate the cyberbullying or in-person teasing. They can no longer hide their failing grades. The roomy sweatshirts can't disguise their anorexia.

If parents were capable of addressing all children's psychological troubles, we wouldn't need mental health clinics. But even the most conscientious mother or father is not equipped to handle these problems alone.

Killingly's clinics would not be designed to usurp parental authority, as some people seem to believe. They would be a safety valve for struggling youngsters. A confidential place for adolescents to sort out their troubles before they reach a crisis.

If anything, parents should see therapists as an important ally in the difficult task of raising children. They are not a substitute, but like teachers, coaches and guidance counselors, they can help teens navigate the choppy waters of adolescence. The best therapists offer strategies for coping with anxiety and stress that can become lifelong skills.

Parents who are skeptical might consider doing some real research. Instead of relying on internet conspiracy theories or political talking points, speak with an adolescent therapist about their methods. Talk with your high school's guidance counselor.

The parents who defeated this proposal may think they have kept some danger at bay. What they have really done is denied all teens in the community access to free, effective mental health care. That is the real threat to the town's children.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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