According to Maine’s Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Maine), one out of every five adults in the United States experience mental illness each year. For youth ages six through 17, it is one out of every six. When you factor in family members, friends, colleagues and others, this means that just about every person in our state is impacted by mental illness one way or another.

For some of us, it’s manageable. I take medication for moderate anxiety, and I get by just fine. For others, it’s unbearable. It does not only manifest itself in individuals experiencing an acute crisis — for many, the combination of inadequate treatment, the lack of access to services and the lack of resources makes it harder to work and harder to manage family life and relationships. It can be disruptive in big and small ways, each having ripple effects across communities.

Mental health is sometimes used as a political cudgel in debating controversial topics like gun safety, which does a disservice to both of those difficult subjects and to the significant challenges we face in treating mental illness in Maine. But if we’re serious about meeting these challenges, there are helpful steps we can take.

One challenge is a shortage of providers and the fact that there are not enough people working in mental health professions. Right now, more than 260,000 Mainers live in communities that do not have enough mental health professionals to meet current needs. This shortage of options also results in higher costs, as many Mainers are forced to seek care from providers outside of their current insurance network, making care less affordable, if not entirely cost-prohibitive.

One positive step we could take is to support Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic Projects. These clinics are federally recognized for their success rates at treating mental illness and substance use disorder. My colleague, Rep. Colleen Madigan of Waterville, has a bill to provide funding for these programs until federal grants can kick in. The funds would enable the clinics to improve pay and worker retention while expanding services into underserved and rural parts of the state. The bill is currently awaiting funding from the Legislature’s budget committee, and I encourage my colleagues to fund it.

Another important step would be to support the initiatives proposed by Gov. Janet Mills to improve crisis care and response and better prevent violence and self-harm. Her plan would establish a network of crisis receiving centers to direct appropriate and helpful care to people so they are not stuck in an emergency room or jail. There is already one in Portland, called the Living Room Crisis Center, and over an 18-month period, 3,000 people visited the facility to receive support. Under the governor’s plan, the next center would be located in Lewiston, followed by others around the state. This will save lives.


There is a lot more we can do. As policymakers, we need to choose to value and prioritize mental health. Maine’s mental health system care has been underfunded for decades, leading to atrophy and an inability for people to access the services they need. Untreated mental illness not only hurts the person suffering from it, but it also creates a ripple effect throughout our communities and our economy. Because it is too often an invisible illness, it is too often neglected, but our mental health needs care and stewardship, just as our hearts, lungs and digestive systems do.

I don’t want mental health to be relegated to simply a sideshow in another debate. It’s too important and too impactful to people I love, to be just a talking point. We need real action and real investments to see meaningful improvement. Aside from that, we need to be willing to talk about it openly to reduce the stigma and open up pathways for care and support. I don’t have all the answers — but I know we can do our best to support one another.

If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, is in a mental health or substance use crisis or any other form of stress, please call or text 9-8-8 or chat You and your loved ones are worth it.

In the meantime, I can be reached at or my office, (207) 287-1430, with any legislative concerns you have.

Rep. Marc Malon is serving his first term in the Maine House, representing a portion of Biddeford. He serves as a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and the Labor and Housing Committee.

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