Even though the legislature is not
in session during this time of year, senators and representatives keep busy
doing the work we were elected to do.
For some of us, that means attending
conferences that help us to develop new ideas and better serve the people in
our districts. For all of us, it means spending time listening to and speaking
with our constituents about their ideas and concerns.
While the entire bodies of the
legislature are not meeting these days, committees, task forces, and working
groups still keep us busy. For example, there are over 400 bills from the last
session that were held over until next year that need to be worked on and many
issues need to be addressed in order to better inform all legislators before we
start our work as a group again in January.
Studies estimate that one in five Americans has some form of mental illness
in a given year. Also, one in 20 Mainers will experience at least one episode
of serious mental illness each year. That means that 56,000 of our
family members, neighbors, and friends will face a serious challenge related to
mental illness in the next twelve months. In addition, about 45,000 adults in
Maine report having serious thoughts of suicide each year.
Nationwide, mental health and substance abuse cost businesses about $100
billion annually. Depression alone is thought to account for up to 400 million
lost work days annually.
Two out of three Mainers who seek help with mental health issues in our
public health system are unemployed likely due to their illness. But
fortunately, about the same number of those who seek treatment report that it
helped them to function better.
Among the great challenges to mental health treatment is the fact that many
people who experience difficulties do not realize it, or are hesitant to seek
out care due to the unfortunate stigma often attached to treatment for mental
This is unfortunate, since mental illness is no different from any other
health problem including cancer, asthma, or heart disease. But, rather than
affecting a major organ of the body, it is rooted in the functions of the
For those who do seek out care, issues of affordability and health care
coverage can create obstacles as well.
Often, mental health problems are either a symptom of, or the cause of,
substance abuse and the issues surrounding the abuse of opioids and other
prescription drugs are widespread and commonly known.
For all of these important reasons, the Maine State Legislature passed a
resolve this past session to establish a “Working Group on Mental Health.”
This group, made up of legislators, health professionals, mental health
advocates, law enforcement professionals and others, will examine how state and
federal dollars are spent on mental health, the accessibility of appropriate
care in Maine, the costs and the quality of outcomes of mental health treatment.
Based on what the working group learns it will propose a mental health plan
for the State.
Community-based mental health services are the foundation for a healthier
Maine, and the State currently houses too many people with behavioral health
needs in our jails, health care facilities and emergency rooms.
Having been appointed as a member of this working group I look forward to
fully examining Maine’s mental health care system and learning about the new
strategies and solutions that may be available to improve upon it.
Recognizing and treating mental illness will help people enjoy a full and
satisfying life. There is hope.
Again, I am State Senator Kimberley Rosen. Thanks for listening.