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State leaders meet to discuss Maine's mental health crisis

On Tuesday, state and medical leaders met to talk about the challenges they have been seeing with mental health.

AUGUSTA, Maine — State leaders came together Tuesday at a summit focused on Maine's mental health crisis. Law enforcement, health care workers, and experts in mental health say resources are lacking for people to get treatment, and that keeps them in hospitals or county jails, neither of which can provide appropriate treatment.

According to the American Psychological Association, about 20% of 911 calls nationwide are related to someone having a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

"There's a lot of untreated or under-treated mental health conditions in the country in general," Dr. Nicholas Gallagher from MaineGeneral Hospital said.

More often than not, because of limited mental health resources, police officers or paramedics are the first to respond to those calls. But many of them are not equipped to handle someone in crisis.

"County jails have become stabilization units," Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said. Merry, a panelist on Tuesday, said arresting someone and putting them in jail isn't a solution.

NEWS CENTER Maine has been closely following this problem, specifically as it relates to overcrowding at the Penobscot County Jail.

"Mental health issues definitely play a part in this," Brewer Police Chief Jason Moffitt said earlier this month. "Speaking to the sheriff, he has 8 or 9 people at his facility right now that should be in an institution."

Penobscot County leaders are working to place people in crisis where they need to be. Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci said that the commission is working on diversion programs so people can stay out of jail unless they absolutely need to be there.

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