By Ramona du Houx
Several members of the Maine Legislature attended a summit Tuesday on the mental health crisis in Maine resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The event took place at the Augusta Civic Center. Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais, Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, and Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, participated in a panel discussion at the summit to discuss the role of the Maine Legislature in addressing mental health care in the state.
“Mental health services in Maine have been under stress for years,” said Rep. Breen. “Unfortunately, like many things, the pandemic has only worsened these problems, creating an increased need for these services and putting more strain on threadbare programs. I am committed to doing everything I can, both inside and out of the State House, to make sure people have access to the services they need.”
On the panel, the legislators discussed disparities in Maine’s mental health services and ways in which community-based mental health care can be improved to advance equity in care. “All Mainers deserve unrestricted access to mental health care,” said Talbot Ross. “But unfortunately, our mental health delivery system has never included the cultural, spiritual and traditional practices of people of color, nor has it responded to specific needs caused by the generational impact of racialized trauma. It is my hope that this summit and the efforts that come from it will interrupt this exclusionary pattern, and spur investment in opportunities for people from all backgrounds to find their paths to mental wellness.”
“Improving Maine’s mental health services has and will continue to be my top priority going into the next legislative session in January,” said Rep. Gramlich. “It is critical for all Mainers to recognize that the brain is part of the body, and that mental health care is just as essential as all other forms of health care. We can make a big difference by adequately funding community-based mental health services, increasing wages for direct care workers and reducing the stigma around receiving these services.”
A few lawmakers on the panel brought their own experiences with Maine’s mental and behavioral health system into the discussion about legislative solutions. Rep Gramlich and Rep. Madigan are both social workers and Rep. Breen has family members who are consumers of mental health programs in Maine.
The summit was organized by the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, Behavioral Health Community Collaborative, Consumer Council System of Maine, NAMI, Pathways of Maine and the University of Southern Maine School of Social Work. The summit aimed to shine a light on Maine’s current level of need for mental health services and how those needs can be met.