There is a critical need to use the American Rescue Plan funding to make investments in mental health care, substance use disorder treatment, and housing.

Throughout the last year we have seen weekly, sometimes daily, articles about the effect of the pandemic on mental health. There has been a rise in depression, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide. In 2020, Maine had 502 deaths due to substance use disorder overdose, higher than deaths by COVID-19 (422). In addition, Maine’s suicide rate, higher than the national average, in 2020 was 261.

There were close to 20 bills heard in the Health and Human Services Committee of the Maine legislature that addressed some aspect of the shortage of mental health care services in Maine. The need is critical and there is no time to lose.

Gov. Janet Mills recently signed a proclamation naming May as Mental Health Awareness month. The proclamation noted that mental health conditions are common, affecting one in five adults nationwide – 187,000 Mainers. It also stated that approximately one-half of chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 24, early identification and treatment can improve lifelong outcomes for young people with mental illness.

We have an established need, an understanding that early intervention is critical to positive outcomes, a chronic shortage of resources, and a lack of commitment by a government that makes high minded proclamations, but fails to back statements of concern with financial resources that would make a dent in the documented need.

The consequence of a lack of funding for mental health services has been burgeoning prison and jail populations. “While at least half of prisoners have some mental health concerns, about 10 percent to 25 percent of U.S. prisoners suffer from serious mental illnesses, such as major affective disorders or schizophrenia,” a report by the American Psychological Association finds.

A 2015, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved study found that “25 percent of the American homeless – 140,000 individuals – were seriously mentally ill at any given point in time. Forty-five percent of the homeless – 250,000 individuals – had a mental illness.”

Although Maine does provide some crisis stabilization beds and mobile crisis units, they are critically underfunded, do not have enough beds, and are lacking in rural Maine.

Maine is already paying for the consequences of mental health conditions in lost potential, broken families, prison budgets, caring for or simply policing homeless populations. Making financial investments in prevention instead of paying the financial and social costs of insufficient mental health resources is a sensible solution.

We have a pressing need and a valuable opportunity. Around the state, counties and municipalities will be seeing the largest influx of funds in their history from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. These funds can be used to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding of mental health services is one of the permissible uses.

We encourage Maine government at all levels to invest in mental health care including crisis stabilization beds and mobile crisis units, but also recovery centers, substance use disorder treatment, peer recovery programs, recovery housing, and community treatment providers.

The people in need are our family members, our neighbors, and our coworkers. They are the people that strengthen our communities and help us all thrive. Let us make an investment in healthy communities starting now.

— Special to the Press Herald


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