Bangor Daily News: Maine needs to devote more resources to mental health

By Opinion Contributor

Malory Shaughnessy is the executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services. Betsy Sweet is senior policy advocate for the Behavioral Health Community Collaborative. Simonne Maline is the executive director of the Consumer Council System of Maine. Hannah Longley is senior clinical director of community programs at NAMI Maine.

May was Mental Health Awareness Month, a time when organizations and individuals come together to raise awareness about the importance of mental health and promote access to resources for those struggling with mental illness. Gov. Janet Mills even signed a proclamation for May as Mental Health Awareness Month in Maine “to shine a light on mental illness and the need for long-term improvements in our mental health care system and increased access to care for all.”

This is a critical issue across the state of Maine as evidenced by the recently reported Maine Shared Community Health Needs Assessment Report. Mental health was a top priority identified across all counties and all community-sponsored events.

We call on legislative leadership and Mills to show their support for Mainers facing mental health challenges by including in the governor’s budget change package several bills gaining strong support in the legislature.

One is LD 540, An Act to Establish Peer Respite Centers for Adults with Mental Health Challenges in Maine. A peer respite is a voluntary, short-term, overnight program that provides community-based, non-clinical crisis support to help people find new understanding and ways to move forward. They operate 24 hours per day in a homelike environment. They are exclusively staffed and managed by peers with lived mental health challenges. Successful peer respites are currently operating in many states and previously did in Maine. Studies have found a 70% reduction in inpatient or emergency services used and that peer respites strengthen self-sufficiency and social connectedness.

Additionally, Maine needs expanded mental health services. One new service model that holds great promise is the certified community behavioral health clinic (CCBHC). A CCBHC is a specially-designated clinic that provides a comprehensive range of mental health and substance use services. These clinics serve anyone who walks through the door, regardless of their diagnosis and insurance status. LD 472, An Act to Support Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic Projects is vital to continuing to build on the million-dollar federal grant the Maine Department of Health and Human Services received to develop this model, and to provide continuing support to the six Maine agencies that have received federal grants to build this model. Another important bill to meet the growing needs of adolescents with both mental health and substance use challenges is LD 1305, Resolve, to Design and Implement a Community-based Model of Care for Adolescent Mental Health.

To meet the goals of Mills’ proclamation, we must also enhance and expand substance use disorder treatment and support services. There is an increasing number of Mainers presenting with the complexity of co-occurring substance use and mental health challenges. LD 1178 is a Resolve, to Reduce Barriers to Recovery from Addiction by Expanding Eligibility for Targeted Case Management services. Research suggests two reasons why case management is effective as an adjunct to substance use treatment. First, retention in treatment is associated with better outcomes, and case management keeps clients engaged and moving toward recovery. Second, treatment may be more likely to succeed when a client’s other social determinants of health are addressed, such as mental illness, homelessness, lack of transportation, etc.

To expand these services, we must address the workforce shortage. Two bills that could make an impact are LD 997, Resolve, to Reduce Workforce Barriers for Mental Health Professionals in Maine, and LD 1718, An Act to Encourage Participation in Maine’s Essential Support Workforce.

Mental health is essential to overall health and well-being, yet it is often stigmatized and overlooked. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maine Chapter, one in four Mainers is affected by mental illness. And, according to the Maine Children’s Alliance recently released Maine KIDS COUNT, as many as one in four Maine children ages 12-17 have high rates of anxiety.

It is important to continue advocating for mental health resources and reduce the stigma around mental illness. We invite Maine’s lawmakers and governor to join the movement to prioritize mental health. Let’s work together to promote awareness and break down barriers to care.