Community Conversation on Mental Health Services Available in Framingham

Mental Health and services available to City residents was the focus of a Community Conversation on Mental Healthcare Thursday night. About 30 residents attended the event hosted by Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer.

Mayor Spicer held the conversation in order to help erase the stigma surrounding mental health, but also to make the public aware of the resources at their fingertips they may not have known about.

Spicer said part of her job as Mayor is to “take the blinders off, take the shame away”. 

With 1 in 5 adults in the United States dealing with a mental health condition and 50,000 suicides per year, mental health is a public issue that must be addressed.

One of the most important pieces of raising awareness about mental health is creating an open conversation with individuals of all ages, eliminating the negative connotations often surrounding the topic.

According to panelist Eliza Williamson, Director of Community Education and Training for NAMI Massachusetts, it is important to teach children about the importance of mental health starting at a young age.

Williamson was bringing her 3-year-old niece to school one day when they got on the topic of the “take a breath space” in her niece’s classroom.

The space consisted of a zen garden, a bean bag chair, and a mini waterfall. Students could self-elect when to go in the space if they needed a break.

By creating these conversations and providing these options to students at a young age, the community can encourage everyone that “taking care of mental health is just as important and valid as taking care of physical health,” Williamson said.

Lawrence DeAngelo, who also works for NAMI, shared that his daughter has struggled at times with her mental health. His family has used resources such as Advocates and is extremely grateful for them. He wants individuals who may be struggling to know that they are not alone.

Framingham Health Director Samuel Wong also delivered a personal anecdote, sharing that he was a mental health patient about 12 years ago. Though he would have no problem discussing having high cholesterol or suffering from the flu, he said it was difficult to discuss having problems with his mental health. Not only is there a stigma surrounding mental health, but there are also limitations from insurance companies. For example, if you are suffering from a cold or the flu, there is no limit on how many times you can see a doctor for treatment. Comparatively, there is typically a strict limit on the number of times a patient can see a counselor or therapist for their mental health in a given year. Wong says this creates an institutional barrier for those seeking treatment. 

What is the City of Framingham doing to help those seeking treatment?

In the Framingham Public Schools, Sara Deluca works on Positive Behavior Intervention Support.

According to the Walsh Middle School Website, PBIS is “a nationally recognized, evidence-based approach to building a positive school climate that builds a continuum of support for students to promote positive social behaviors.” 

Framingham also has a Jail Diversion Program in partnership with the police department and Advocates. This offers a treatment-based alternative that allows clinicians to eliminate fees for referrals to hospital emergency departments. The program also provides support and referrals to those who are unable to be diverted from arrest.

In addition, the Public Health Department offers services such as Mental Health First Aid training, hoarding disorder support, supports for dementia, a mental health screening kiosk at the MetroWest YMCA, advocate integration of physical and behavioral health, and referrals for those in need of treatment.

Anne Pelletier Parker, a resident of Framingham and Executive Director of Behavioral Health Partners of MetroWest, discussed additional resources available for Framingham residents of all ages.

Parker said that Behavioral Health Partners is a collaborative effort between Advocates, SMOC, Wayside, and Spectrum Health System. There is an Emergency Services Program (ESP) line at 1-800-640-5432 that is available to the public 24/7, 365 days a year. There is also a referral line that acts as a single point of access for the community, at 1-844-528-6800. The referral line helps arrange the mental health services that you want/need.

According to Parker, in many cases, “they do the leg work for you” in scheduling appointments. In fact, they will call to check in with you if there is an extended wait time to see how you are doing and if you need more urgent care. They also call after your appointment to see how it went and if you need further assistance. The line is open Monday 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Tuesday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. There is no fee to call the service.

The biggest takeaway from the community conversation was that Framingham is working to provide the sources that individuals need to get help, and is also working to erase the stigma surrounding mental health.