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The Commonwealth of Massachusetts consistently fails most measures of providing access to treatment for its population with severe mental illness, according to our report released today.

Massachusetts: An Assessment on the Commonwealth’s Access to Treatment for Persons with Severe Mental Illness” examines public policies that create access to treatment for the small but costly segment of the population suffering from untreated severe mental illness and unable or unwilling to seek treatment.

The report found that current legal provisions and lack of diversion practices restrict access to treatment for people with severe mental illness until they enter the criminal justice system or fall victim to other consequences of non-treatment.

Key Findings:

  • The untreated population with schizophrenia in Massachusetts is 37,284
  • The untreated population with severe bipolar disorder in Massachusetts is 58,486
  • The estimated number of homeless people with severe mental illness is 4,999
  • The number of people incarcerated with severe mental illness is 7.26% of the male inmate population and 24.9% of the female inmate population

The report recommends three strategies for increasing access to treatment for Massachusetts most vulnerable individuals:

  • Pass House Bill 1792/Senate Bill 906 introduced by Representative Kay Khan and Senator Ken Donnelly to create an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law in Massachusetts.
  • Provide an adequate number of psychiatric beds. An estimated 50 public psychiatric beds per 100,000 people are needed to provide minimally adequate inpatient psychiatric care to Massachusetts’ population. As of 2010 Massachusetts only had 10.6 beds per 100,000 people. 
  • Use mental health courts and Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) policing to divert people with severe mental illness from the criminal justice system

The failure to provide treatment for individuals with serious mental illness has turned into one of the greatest social disasters for Massachusetts. If the state were to reform its mental health treatment laws it would mitigate the strain that untreated mental illness exerts on families, jails and prisons, and the ill themselves.

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