Rebuilding our mental health system will take money and time. Gun reform can happen now.

This review originally appeared in the Maine Morning Star.

After U.S. Rep. Jared Golden publicly changed his mind about the need for an assault weapons ban, Republicans, including potential rivals for his 2nd District congressional seat in Maine, said he was moving The tragedy of Lewiston politicized.

“It is clear that many politicians are seeking to exploit this tragedy to push for sweeping changes to Maine law,” Maine Republican Party Chairman Joel Sturges said in a statement.

One of Golden’s Republican challengers, state Rep. Austin Therio, said the Democratic congressman was trying to “score political points by attacking the Second Amendment.”

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Theriot, who represents Fort Kent in the Legislature, also said we are seeing the consequences of “our political inaction” to “invest in the people who are most struggling.”

“I’m calling for the largest investment in mental health care and access this country has ever seen,” Therio vowed.

That’s no small commitment, and I’d really like to hear more about this plan.

Does this investment mean ensuring that everyone in Maine has access to health insurance that covers mental health? Or is mental health care just something the state provides? Will we raise taxes to pay for investment? Does this also include substance abuse treatment? Will we forgive student loans for those interested in pursuing a master’s degree in social work, psychiatry, or mental health counseling? Will practitioners need to seek approval and reimbursement from private insurance companies? Or will the state provide direct subsidies for this work to incentivize providers to come to Maine?

An annual report from Mental Health America, a national nonprofit, ranks Maine 26th in the nation for the prevalence of mental illness and lower rates of youth and adult access to care, though in the middle of the pack but among New England’s Worst.

Maine ranks 42nd in prevalence of adult mental illness.

The 2023 study also found that 53.5%, or 127,000, adults in Maine with any mental illness were not receiving treatment, with 27.4% reporting unmet needs, meaning those who sought treatment were unable to access it before receiving it. People who face barriers to getting help. According to reports, 14.1% of adults with mental illness in Maine are uninsured.

To put into perspective how under-resourced Maine’s mental health system currently is, there are currently fewer than 100 mobile mental health crisis workers, said Betsy Sweet, a lobbyist working on behalf of the Maine Behavioral Health Partnership. Staff, they need to cover the entire state 24/7. Wait seven to eight months for an appointment to see a psychiatrist, clinical social worker or therapist. For those who live in one of the more rural areas of the state, “you need to drive two hours, not just for your crisis, but if you want a recurring appointment once a month.”

The truth is, underinvesting in mental health is largely a political decision, and in Maine it stems in large part from the actions of Republicans and former Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.

Sweet estimates that Maine’s well-resourced mental health system needs $50-100 million in ongoing funding annually. The budget passed last year included a one-time investment of $20 million in behavioral health services, but as Sweet noted, “that doesn’t even get us to the baseline we need due to a lack of funding over the past two decades.”

Because the truth is, underinvesting in mental health is largely a political decision, and in Maine, it stems in large part from the actions of Republicans and former Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. LePage joined Republicans in slashing the Department of Health and Human Services budget, excluding low-income people from Medicaid, and refusing to acquiesce to the will of voters and the Legislature and expand Medicaid.

We urgently need massive investment in mental health care systems, but it won’t happen overnight. Not only do you need funding, training, and infrastructure, but you also need to convince Uncle Frank that you can talk to him when he’s sad and angry.

But there are more pressing reform options. Some states have implemented policies to try to prevent the mass deaths that occurred last week, such as state-level assault rifle bans, background checks, and actual red flag laws to ensure that those deemed a danger to themselves or others do not have access to lethal weapons. . arms. Even if all of these policies were in place, they would not affect the ability of trained, law-abiding people to possess any number of firearms to hunt deer or protect their homes or exercise their Second Amendment rights.

Even though the entire country is calling for gun violence protections, as Golden pointed out in a subsequent interview with the Bangor Daily News, that’s not going to happen immediately at the national level because of our divided government (which really can’t Agree) about the color of the sky).

But Miners are demanding action, and with Democrats winning three straight, state leaders could convene a special session and pass some legislation within weeks to ensure the horrific losses so many are feeling now never happen again. .

The Maine Morning Star is part of the State Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by a coalition of grants and donors as a 501c(3) public charity. The Maine Morning Star maintains editorial independence. If you have questions, please contact editor Lauren McCauley: [email protected].Follow Maine Morning Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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