Why we need the youth mental health bill

Editor's Note: Rasheeda Bean is interning with DC Action this summer. She intends to testify at the DC Council's youth hearing this Saturday on the importance of behavioral and mental health screenings and treatment for youth. For more information on the hearing, which starts at 10 am at the Wilson Building, please visit http://www.dccouncil.us/youthhearings.

Growing up in the Ward 8 community I have witnessed and heard of a lot of crimes. One particular incident I took very seriously was what has come to be called the “South Capitol Street Tragedy.” Two of my dear friends, Jordan Howe, 20, and William Jones, 19, were victims and lost their lives within a week.

I believe that most of these crimes revolve around the fact that there is a lack of guidance in the home. Most parents feel that once their child reaches a certain age, there is really nothing they can do for them. From my own personal experience, I had to overcome many obstacles and tribulations from an early age. When my grandmother passed away I was only 11 years old and I had to teach and take care of myself. Most kids in my community still have at least one parent or guardian in the home, but still lack structure and guidance coming from that individual.

I also believe the community plays a big role as well. First of all most people in my community live by the street code “don’t ask, don’t tell,” so when crimes occur, mysteriously, no one has seen or heard anything. From my understanding the police were put here to help protect and serve us but the ones in my neighborhood act like they are one of us -- they see nothing and say nothing.

Council member David Catania has introduced a bill to address child and youth behavioral health called the “South Capitol Street Tragedy Memorial Act” to prevent crimes like the ones that took my friends’ lives. I believe it would have a great impact on the community because individuals are walking around with mental and behavioral issues that aren’t being treated. If we can get advocates and city officials to be a little more active in the community and start talking about issues related to mental and behavioral health, it should be a big help. (Read DC Action's testimony.)

Personally, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Bipolar Disorder. I didn’t find this out until I was 18 and had already been going through changes. I had a lot of issues that weren’t being dealt with and once I was screened and talked to a psychiatrist, I truly felt some of my burdens were lifted. A friend had seen me experience a blackout and called the hospital. The hospital referred me to a psychiatrist. I am so grateful that my friend took the liberty and the time out to care and help me. I only wish it had happened earlier.

If we can get everyone to be a part of this effort and support it, I believe we will all see a big difference in not only my community, but in the whole city. It is truly sad to think that in my community the police have a reputation of either being scared or just not caring when it is not their children or friends who are affected by violence. This particular bill could not come soon enough. So many young people have already lost their lives.