The effort to normalize and expand access to mental health treatment has taken a huge step forward in Massachusetts.

This week, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously passed the Mental Health ABC Act 2.0, a reintroduction and improvement of previous mental health legislation that had been introduced in February of 2020 but was set aside due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When I spoke with Senator Julian Cyr, who chairs the Special Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery on Beacon Hill, he said that this bill aims to not only provide greater resources toward making mental health treatment more accessible, but to remove the stigma attached to mental health treatment.

“Too many people in Massachusetts struggle to access the mental health care and the mental health services that they desperately need and they deserve," Senator Cyr said. "And what we’re trying to do is not let old ways of thinking in mental health linger anymore.” 

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The key provisions of this bill mandate insurance coverage for an annual mental health wellness exams much like annual physical exams are covered, as well as mandating that insurance coverage for mental health is equal to coverage for other medical conditions.

"The idea that a person's mental health is just as important as their physical health is the cornerstone of this reform," Cyr emphasized. "We know that early intervention makes all the difference when we are talking about chronic diseases, cancer, and other illnesses. Well it's just the same when it comes to mental health. So, we believe you should get access for it and you shouldn't have to jump through hoops with your insurance coverage to make that happen."

Among many reforms, this act aims to address the emergency boarding crisis for people in need of emergency inpatient placement for mental health treatment by creating an online portal that enables access to real-time data, and includes a search function that allows health care providers to find open beds. The act also works to mobilize a robust and culturally diverse workforce so that people seeking mental health access across all backgrounds can find a practitioner that best understands their needs.

"We know that mental health care is most effective when a patient and provider are able to build a trusting relationship," Cyr said. "Language barriers and lack of cultural connection can be a real barrier to effective treatment. So we need to have a more diverse and multilingual workforce to meet the needs of all patients."

In addition to talking about the bill and its bold reforms for mental health treatment access, Senator Cyr also shared his personal experiences with mental health treatment and how his ability to access it helped him make meaningful progress and reach the levels of personal and professional success that he continues to enjoy. You can listen our full conversation here:

Marcus Ferro is the host of The Marcus Ferro Show airing Saturdays on 1420 WBSM from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Contact him at marcusferrolaw@gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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