In a switch from previous years, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a 3.3 percent increase in the overall budget for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) for FY2014. The extra dollars will enable the department to continue funding existing programs and also tackle new initiatives.
Marcia Fowler, DMH commissioner, reports that the extra $5 million will be used to enhance a range of discretionary services, create some new programs and produce a widespread public awareness campaign about mental illness.
The budget increase comes at a time when the state continues to reposition its inpatient services, develop programs to ease transition back into the community and create community-based services, programs and training to address a variety of mental health-related issues.
Fowler says that $2 million has been earmarked for an emergency services program that will support secure mobile capacity and technology. She indicates that more personnel and better technology will enable the state’s mobile crisis teams to expand their outreach efforts and more effectively deliver specialized mental health services on-site to those in need. At the same time, staff safety and response times will be improved.
In light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., DMH has decided to designate $1 million for mental health training and consultation services to school systems across the state. Fowler says, “The funds will be used to train middle and high school personnel to recognize symptoms of mental illness in students and learn how to support them.”
DMH will more than double its current budget for crisis intervention training for law enforcement and other community-based first responders.
In FY2014, the department will allocate $900,000 for enhanced Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). More in-depth CIT enables responders to better recognize, de-escalate and divert individuals with mental illness, Fowler says.
Noting that most mental illnesses begin in childhood, Fowler says DMH is focusing on early intervention. “The onset of mental illness presents 50 percent of the time prior to age 14 and 75 percent of the time prior to age 24. By training and intervening earlier, we can interrupt the trajectory. We will expand access to psychiatrists who will consult with pediatricians during well visits.”
The psychiatrists will offer referrals for medication and other treatment options for children who exhibit signs of behavioral or mental health concerns during visits to the pediatrician. The Massachusetts Child Psychiatric Access Program (MCPAP) will receive $500,000 to implement this program.
In addition to supporting MCPAP, some of the funds will be set aside for the Center for Early Detection and Response to Risk (CEDAR) program; the governor has designated $100,000 for this program. Additionally, Fowler reports that Gov. Patrick’s FY2014 budget provides $500,000 for a large-scale public awareness campaign. “We want to raise awareness that access [to services] is important and that treatment is effective and works,” she says. A key segment of the public campaign will attempt to reduce the stigma attached to seeking mental health services, the commissioner adds.
Fowler commends the governor for his efforts to achieve full implementation of parity. She adds that his support of DMH will help the department more effectively address mental health-related issues.
By Phyllis Hanlon