Dec 29, 2021

If 2020 was the year we all wanted to forget, then 2021 may be remembered as the year everyone was talking about mental health.

From Simone Biles to Meaghan Markle to Naomi Osaka, celebrities opened up about their struggles and strategies for mental health. But more important, so did the rest of us.

In a monthly tracking survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of Americans say that their mental health was negatively affected by COVID, with women and young adults reporting the greatest impact. (November 8-22, KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor) One of our Board leaders described it this way: "Mental health went from being a 'they' issue to a 'we' issue."

Mental health is now part of our natural conversations. People are learning and talking about their own mental health, reaching out for help, and using their own experiences with mental health conditions to help others.

Policymakers, too, have recognized the critical importance of mental health, especially in the wake of the COVID pandemic that waxes and wanes but never quite goes away. Citing dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and substance use, Governor Baker and legislative leaders have taken several steps to support mental health as an integral part of the Commonwealth’s COVID recovery plan. Legislation passed and signed by the Governor in the past month provides $400 million in new funding to support mental health services, programs, and workforce development.

This new funding follows passage of a FY22 budget with unprecedented levels of funding for housing for people with mental health and substance use conditions; resources to reduce Emergency Department boarding, especially by children and adolescents; and investments in diversion from police interaction and incarceration.

Implementation of the Roadmap, a major reform initiative released by the Administration last year to streamline access to outpatient behavioral health services is well underway. A new policy issued this past month incentivizes mental health agencies to provide “behavioral health urgent care,” with same-day new patient evaluations and extended hours to remove barriers to care. At the same time, the House will now take up a Senate-passed mental health reform bill to advance parity in reimbursement for mental health services.

I’ll admit that it was hard to be hopeful at the start of 2021, surrounded by the uncertainty, social isolation, and grief of COVID. But looking back today, I’m grateful for the many ways in which mental health has become a priority - and I’m confident that 2022 will continue to move us closer to a more comprehensive, effective approach to supporting people with mental health conditions.

Thank you for your partnership, advocacy, and support over the past year. I wish you and your loved ones a peaceful holiday and a joyous New Year.

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