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After eight years of decimation, it is time to rebuild Maine’s mental health system

Posted By Jenna Mehnert, Executive Director, Thursday, January 3, 2019

In this time of political change, NAMI Maine remains steadfast in our commitment to all people living with a mental health condition. The past eight years decimated Maine’s mental health and substance abuse systems, but it isn’t good enough to just rebuild what was. NAMI Maine is issuing a call for a comprehensive, focused effort to build a dynamic mental health system rich with early intervention and evidence-based practices. As a group of peers, family and community members, we call for a continuum of services that meets each person (adult and child) where they are in their journey toward wellness; a true system of care that focuses on adequately-funded, effective community-based services that have measurable impacts on the lives of individuals.

We call upon the Department of Health and Human Services to bring what is working in other states to Maine and to employ the operational expertise necessary to hold every provider in Maine accountable to high standards.

As this important work moves forward, we renew our call that no person is forgotten. Forensic patients were demonized in the recent past and early intervention programs ignored. We cannot toss away those individuals who are hardest to treat. No Mainer placed in the custody of the commissioner of DHHS should ever be sent to a correctional facility.

As controversy surrounds the step-down facility being constructed in Bangor, NAMI Maine believes it can perform a needed role within the mental health continuum for forensic patients if, and only if, 1) high-quality programming moves people toward community re-entry in meaningful ways; 2) it is staffed by those with expertise and experience so as not to further stigmatize patients receiving care; 3) there is an empowered body to oversee staff of the facility and hold them accountable; and 4) it serves as a location for forensic patients currently placed out of state. We believe that even those whose struggle is great can live the life they envision for themselves — but only if we provide supports that are built around the individual and not the providers.

Just as with physical health conditions, early detection of a mental health challenge greatly enhances the success of treatment approaches. With three-quarters of mental health conditions presenting by age 24, a lack of early intervention services demonstrate a critical gap in the system.

Evidence of how we are failing our youth is clear when examining the number of children placed out of state and confined at Long Creek Youth Development Center because we lack access to an appropriate continuum of mental health and support services here in Maine. NAMI Maine calls for a system that goes far beyond case management and in-home supports.

NAMI Maine looks forward to conversations that create a full continuum of care within the mental health system with the caveat that early intervention and self-determination must be the guiding beacons within any system built. Let us all hold a shared commitment to build effective and humane systems that truly demonstrate a belief in the value of all people.

Jenna Mehnert is the executive director of NAMI Maine.

Article originally published by the Bangor Daily News on January 2, 2019.

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