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Coakley warns of cuts in mental health programs

By: The Associated Press
March 10, 2014 Updated: March 10, 2014 at 7:06 pm
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BOSTON (AP) — Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley, who lost a younger brother to suicide, called on lawmakers Monday to restore proposed cuts in community-based behavioral health programs and help eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness.

In a video released on Monday by her campaign, Coakley talks about her brother, Edward, who took his life in 1996 at age 33 after battling depression as a young adult. She recounts how he resisted treatment and was unable to hold a job or maintain relationships.

Coakley announced a plan to address what she termed a behavioral health crisis in Massachusetts.

"Let's diagnose and treat all of our children, our young adults, our returning veterans for the physical and the mental health trauma that they have suffered," she said.

Coakley warned that Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 could eliminate services for hundreds of people with mental health and drug addiction problems. She asked the Legislature to restore $3 million to the state Department of Mental Health for community-based support services for adults and children.

Another key is reducing the stigma or embarrassment often attached to mental health issues, the attorney general said, particularly for military veterans coping with depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Her plan would expand peer support programs that train people to recognize and assist others who may be in a psychological crisis.

The proposal also seeks better coordination between primary care and mental health treatment. Coakley said barriers that separate between physical and mental health treatment often lead to misdiagnosis and prescription drug errors.

State treasurer Steven Grossman, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, separately released a plan on Monday that also calls for shifting more treatment of acute mental illness from large hospitals to community-based facilities and outpatient clinics.

Grossman also called for increased investment in addiction treatment programs and creation of a task force consisting of the six New England states and New York to seek regional approaches to behavioral health issues.

Five Democrats, two Republicans and three independents running to succeed Patrick, who is not seeking re-election.

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