MAINE, USA — Members of the Legislature held a ‘Mental Health Summit’ in November 2021 to learn more about the current state of behavioral services, workforce shortages, and the toll the pandemic has on individuals around the state.
On Thursday, lawmakers presented their findings to the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee during a virtual meeting. Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Washington, and Rep. Lori Gramlich, D-Old Orchard Beach, were the two who spoke.
Moore said at the time of the Mental Health Summit there were a limited number of mental health workers prepared to respond to calls in the field around Maine.
“We do not have an adequate strategic plan for our behavior health care system,” Gramlich said.
After briefing the committee, the two lawmakers pointed out several bills in Augusta that can help address the mental health crisis in Maine. Gramlich pointed out many bills look the same as those presented years before, but new resources and programs are still needed.
The two said having conversations with all vested stakeholders is a “critical first step” in advancing new plans to help Mainers get the access they need.
Moore said more than 2,300 individuals are waiting for outpatient mental health treatment openings. There are 70 Maine kids going to out-of-state facilities for care because of a capacity issue at centers in Maine.
Statewide issues were also a focus of a virtual conversation on Thursday titled: Emotional Well-Being During a Pandemic. Speakers included Dr. Nirav Shah of the Maine Center For Disease Control and Prevention and Arabelle Perez, a faculty member at the University of New England. She has been a practicing social worker for 30 years and specializes in trauma services.
“Knowing that we practice physical hygiene, we should also be practicing emotional hygiene,” Perez said during a zoom call before the event Thursday.
Perez said she would focus her talk on how individuals can help their emotional well-being.
“Being a good neighbor, being a good community member can help you through the current situation,” she said. “When you are in the act of doing for others, it stimulates parts of your brain associated with positive states, so you end up feeling better.”
Understanding emotions and how to appropriately react to them is also an essential tip, according to Perez. She said even baby steps, like putting down your phone for a bit or taking a walk to clear your head, can work.
Perez added she is “all about stigma reduction,” which is why she uses the terms emotional hygiene or emotional well-being rather than the common phrase, mental health.
Back in Augusta, lawmakers now have a better understanding of the crisis the state is in regarding behavioral services and workers. And as everyone closes in on the second anniversary of the pandemic, Perez said it’s best to come and work together.
“I think we are stronger and better when we do that together,” she added. “We are resilient as a people. We are a resilient species.”