Beacon Hill panel sees need to do more to deal with mental health, drug addiction

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

For the Gazette
Published: 4/8/2018 11:42:40 PM

BOSTON — Massachusetts should do more to address substance abuse that can lead to behavioral health issues, according to the final report of the Special Commission on Behavioral Health Promotion and Upstream Prevention, outlining the state of mental health concerns in the commonwealth.

In Massachusetts, more than $6 billion is spent annually for prescription medication and behavioral health services, and it’s estimated that only 3 percent of public spending to address substance misuse goes toward preventive measures, according to the report. The commission said there are proven ways to reduce the rates and severity of mental health issues in the state and recommends investment in local prevention infrastructure.

The commission urged legislators to invest in preventtive measures for that cohort including “suicide prevention training and awareness for educators,” providing training on behavioral health to law enforcement, and including mental health education in public schools.

It largely focused on the mental health of people from birth to 22 years, because chronic mental health issues typically surface by the time people reach their mid-20s. The report championed the expanding use of “behavioral health vaccines” — programs like life skills training and PAX GBG that teach children self-regulation and decision-making skills. Another suggestion was to repair playgrounds to create safe environments that foster behavioral learning.

The findings suggest that increasing investment in mental health crisis prevention will not only promote the well-being of the people of the state, but also save money in the long term and prevent “downstream consequences” in the criminal justice system and social services.

Rep. James M. Cantwell, D-Marshfield, who chaired the commission, projected optimism that the Legislature would take action on the recommendations. “This report is not going to sit on a shelf,” he said.

Christine Lytwynec writes for the Gazette as part of the Boston University Statehouse Program.


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