“Let’s Talk About It” Symposium | May 19th

Community, join us on May 19th from 7-8:30pm. Rep. Michael Day will be guest speaker at the “Let’s Talk About It” forum on mental health at First Congregational Church in Stoneham.

Here’s a little preview of the event:

For too long, we as a society have refused to recognize mental illness as something we all face, either individually or in our family. Mental health is relegated to the shadows of our health care system, and too rarely discussed in our conversations. I am sixth of seven children in my immediate family, and – at last count – the number of my cousins living in this area alone is in excess of one hundred. This “Diaspora of Days,” like many of your own families, is full of individuals coping with mental health issues. In plain terms, that means my family struggles with depression, anxiety, dementia, alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and other, as-yet undiagnosed mental health problems. Many of my family members regularly self-medicate with alcohol, marijuana, and opioids or take prescription medications. I share this with you because my family is not an exception to the rule when it comes to mental health. We are the rule.

When I joined the Legislature, I requested a meeting with the Speaker of the House to discuss my committee requests. I believe I surprised him when I asked to be seated on the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. One of my colleagues described the work of this committee as among the toughest assignments in the State House. The hearings are dominated by individuals and family members who have lived with mental health challenges and substance use disorder and who want to share their often heart-wrenching stories publicly in order to help others in similar situations and to educate legislators. Tears are commonplace during these hearings, but so is hope. My work on this committee has indeed been difficult, but it has also been the most rewarding work I have done in the State House.

You likely read about the comprehensive substance use, education and prevention legislation we passed into law last week. This law is already serving as a model for the rest of the country, with the Center for Disease Control recently issuing new guidelines on non-palliative pain management that promote non-opioid based care that largely track our legislation. I am very proud of this comprehensive law, which will change the way we treat and look at addiction and substance abuse. However, this legislation is only one step forward in our approach to substance abuse and mental health. A recent federal study estimates that approximately seven percent of Massachusetts adults battle dependence or abuse of illicit drugs or alcohol. That number climbed to a staggering nineteen percent when 18-25 year olds were considered.

The same study estimated that approximately 20 percent of Massachusetts residents are suffering from a mental illness. That means that, on average, one out of every five Massachusetts residents deal with a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder other than a developmental or substance use disorder. Yet, as an official from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center testified to me at a recent hearing, our society prioritizes and treats “neck down injuries” with far more urgency and attention than we do those “injuries” suffered in the head.

As we are changing our approach to substance use disorder, so must we change the way we think about, discuss and treat mental health afflictions. I co-sponsored legislation that will create a special commission to study evidence-based practices, programs and systems that prevent behavioral health disorders and promote behavioral health. I recently joined my colleagues on the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee in favorably recommending this legislation’s passage. I am also currently working with the Department of Mental Health to host a “Community Conversation” event here in May that will highlight resources and programs available and discuss mental health openly, as it should be. We are beginning to make some progress in the area of mental health, but there is much more work to be done. Removing the stigma associated with mental illness by recognizing and discussing mental health openly is a crucial step necessary to improving all of our lives. I hope you join me in following this new course.

If you or a family member wishes to learn more about available mental health resources, you can call the Department of Mental Health toll free at (800) 221-0053.

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