Getting Our Arms Around Mental Health Care

By Senator Kimberley Rosen

Even though the legislature is not in session during this time of year, senators and representatives keep busy doing the work we were elected to do.

For some of us, that means attending events that help us to develop new ideas and better serve the people in our districts. For all of us, it means spending time listening to and speaking with our constituents about their ideas and concerns.

While the entire bodies of the legislature are not meeting these days, committees, task forces, and working groups still keep us busy. For example, there are over 400 bills from the last session that were held over until next year that need to be worked on and many issues need to be addressed in order to better inform all legislators before we start our work as a group again in January.

Among the many groups and organizations meeting to discuss important policy issues, I have been appointed to serve on the “Working Group on Mental Health,” established this year by a Resolve of the state legislature.

Studies estimate that one in five Americans has some form of mental illness in a given year. Also, one in 20 Mainers will experience at least one episode of serious mental illness each year. That means that 56,000 of our family members, neighbors, and friends will face a serious challenge related to mental illness in the next twelve months. In addition, about 45,000 adults in Maine report having serious thoughts of suicide each year.

Nationwide, mental health and substance abuse cost businesses about $100 billion annually. Depression alone is thought to account for up to 400 million lost work days annually.

Two out of three Mainers who seek help with mental health issues in our public health system are unemployed likely due to their illness. But fortunately, about the same number of those who seek treatment report that it helped them to function better.

Among the great challenges to mental health treatment is the fact that many people who experience difficulties do not realize it or are hesitant to seek out care due to the unfortunate stigma often attached to treatment for mental illness.

This is unfortunate since mental illness is no different from any other health problem including cancer, asthma, or heart disease. But, rather than affecting a major organ of the body, it is rooted in the functions of the brain. For those who do seek out care, issues of affordability and health care coverage can create obstacles as well.

Often, mental health problems are either a symptom of, or the cause of, substance abuse; and the issues surrounding the abuse of opioids and other prescription drugs are widespread and commonly known.

This working group, made up of legislators, health professionals, mental health advocates, law enforcement professionals and others, will examine how state and federal dollars are spent on mental health, the accessibility of appropriate care in Maine, the costs and the quality of outcomes of mental health treatment.

Based on what the working group learns, it will propose a mental health plan for the State.

Community-based mental health services are the foundation for a healthier Maine, and the State currently houses too many people with behavioral health needs in our jails, health care facilities and emergency rooms.

Having been appointed as a member of this working group I look forward to fully examining Maine’s mental health care system and learning about the new strategies and solutions that may be available to improve upon it.

Recognizing and treating mental illness will help people enjoy a full and satisfying life. There is hope.

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Sen. Kimberley Rosen is Maine’s State Senator for District 8

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