A mental health crisis looms over us

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a reminder that the nation and our state are facing an alarming mental health crisis that affects men, women, and children.

This week, US Representative Seth Moulton, who represents much of Billerica, introduced a resolution in Congress that draws attention to this crisis that affects the physical, emotional and well-being of families, friends and communities. It is estimated that more than 70 million adults and children have a mental health problem, one in six adults suffers from depression, 110,000 people died last year from drug overdoses and the US Surgeon General has just announced that loneliness it is now a serious mental health crisis. . In Massachusetts, it is estimated that over 55% of residents are experiencing behavioral health issues. Unfortunately, mental health providers in Massachusetts can’t keep up with the huge growth in those who need help.

Behavioral therapists are experiencing burnout from treating an overwhelming number of existing patients seeking urgent care, which prevents new patients from receiving immediate treatment, often resulting in weeks – if not months – for an appointment.

Local hospital emergency departments are seeing an increase in mental health patients who need immediate assistance due to acute psychiatric episodes. Often these patients, young and old, are forced to wait in the ER for long periods of time before being transferred to a suitable care setting.

Mental health experts believe that social media and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated feelings of sadness, anger, and drug and alcohol abuse, which led to a severe emotional breakdown of violence, suicide, hurting oneself or others. As a result, city and suburban police departments are seeing a dramatic increase in 911 calls requesting urgent assistance for someone with an acute mental health issue. A suburban police department near Boston reports that last year, 50-60% of 911 calls requested police assistance for residents struggling with behavioral health issues and substance abuse.

Police officers are the first to recognize that while they receive some mental health crisis training at the police academy and as part of their on-the-job education, they are not the best equipped to deal effectively with people in mental distress.

It is gratifying to know that a growing number of police departments across Massachusetts, including Lowell, are now collaborating and partnering with mental health clinicians who will follow up with officers responding to a request for behavioral assistance. In my hometown of Billerica, population 45,000, Police Chief Roy Frost is very proud to have a mental health clinician available to accompany officers when they receive a call for help.

Frost, who is entering his second year as chief of police, understands that mental health and substance abuse are very important issues for the community, quality of life and public safety. By having a highly trained mental health clinic partner with your staff, the best level of urgent care is being provided to those in need.

The Billerica program is part of a creative and innovative collaboration between Tewksbury, Chelmsford, Tyngsboro and Dracut police departments and is funded by grants from the state Department of Mental Health.

As the mental health crisis continues to escalate in our region and state, it behooves Governor Maura Healey and the legislature to seriously consider increasing funding for the Department of Mental Health so that the agency can provide even greater financial assistance to agencies. police and the community. based mental health providers as a way to create more programs and services that address this very serious problem.

Billerica’s Rick Pozniak served as the health and government affairs communications executive and communications consultant to the Massachusetts Blue Ribbon Commission on Mental Health, created during the Dukakis administration.

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