A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

A Giant Leap Forward For Mental Health

A Giant Leap Forward For Mental Health

August 14, 2008

This morning, the Legislature passed legislation that will make life a little easier for the 140,000 young people in Massachusetts who are living with mental illness.

In approving An Act Relative To Children’s Mental Health and sending it to Governor Patrick for his signature, the House and Senate recognized that the children’s mental health system in the Commonwealth is broken and in need of reform. Thanks in large part to the leadership of Representative Ruth Balser and Senator Steven Tolman, this bill achieved what very few pieces of legislation are able to accomplish: passage during the first legislative session in which it was introduced.

Today’s success would not have been realized without the work of many individuals and organizations. In addition to Representative Balser and Senator Tolman, more than 120 members of the House and Senate recognized the importance of this issue and agreed to be listed as official supporters of the bill – a virtually unprecedented number in the Massachusetts’ legislature.

Also key to passage was the support of a broad-based coalition of advocacy and community organizations that make up the Children’s Mental Health Campaign. In 2006, MSPCC and Children’s Hospital Boston came together to write a report on the state of children’s mental health in Massachusetts. Some 35 organizations signed on to this initial report and formed the base of the Campaign. In two years, the Campaign has grown to include 125 organizations from across the state.

Finally, but perhaps most important, are the families of children living with mental illness who gave their insights into the changes that needed to be made and who bravely shared their stories. This past spring, the Children’s Mental Health Campaign held a series of regional legislative forums that were attended by media, representatives, senators, and advocates. At each forum, the most moving and convincing words were spoken by parents who shared their personal stories of frustration, tragedy, and success.

Mary Ann Tufts of Plymouth became the personification of the need for reform. In May 2007, Mary Ann and her daughter Yolanda testified in support of An Act Relative To Children’s Mental Health. Sadly, Yolanda’s struggle with mental illness ended this past January when she took her own life in what Mary Ann describes as an impulsive act that none of us can fully understand.

Last month, Mary Ann spoke again at the State House. Calling on the legislature to pass this legislation, she asked that something meaningful come out of her family’s tragedy.

Today the legislature did that.
Matt Noyes