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Senate President Karen Spilka shares story of loved one's mental illness
Taunton Daily Gazette - 2/2/2020
Jan. 31--NATICK -- State Senate President Karen Spilka knows the challenge of living with a family member who suffers from mental illness.
Her father battled the condition, a fact Spilka shared during her keynote address Friday morning at the MetroWest Opioid Coalition Legislative Breakfast at Leonard Morse Hospital.
Spilka said she kept her father's struggle quiet for years, but finally opened up about it publicly for the first time years ago to reduce the stigma of mental illness.
During her talk, Spilka announced that Senate lawmakers plan next week to roll out a comprehensive mental health parity and access bill. The goal is to level the playing field for mental health services, compared to the current level of services to treat physical health. She did not provide details of the bill.
Her family story highlighted Spilka's message that mental illness touches all sectors of society, including many who struggle with drug addiction. By telling their stories, individuals and families lessen the stigma of mental illness, a problem Spilka said requires more resources to tackle.
"My father had major mental illness," she said. "It has an impact on individuals and families. We can and should be doing more."
Spilka, D-Ashland, said her father believed his daughter and wife poisoned his food, and secretly monitored his conversations by placing electronic surveillance in the family's home.
A psychiatrist prescribed the drug Haldol, which Spilka described as a "tranquilizer," and the same doctor told the family to hide it in her father's food so he would take the medication.
The situation became so problematic, Spilka said, that her younger brother feared his father could be dangerous. To protect her brother, Spilka said she let him sleep in her bedroom to provide a safe haven.
"I told my brother that 'Dad has a cold in his brain'," Spilka said to describe how she used sensitivity to explain her father's mental illness.
In the vein of reducing the stigma of mental illness and fighting substance abuse, Spilka said the state will roll out a $500,000 public awareness campaign in May. The money come from $10 million recently added to the fiscal year 2020 state budget for mental and behavioral health services.
Other programs in the fiscal 2020 budget to support mental health and substance abuse, include: discounted Narcan nasal spray to emergency responders and ambulance companies to revive overdose victims; and $150 million for the creation of five recovery centers across the state and employment-support services for those in recovery.
Four MetroWest communities -- Framingham, Natick, Hudson and Ashland -- will start a Recovery Friendly Workforce Initiative to connect employers with prospective employees in recovery.
Funded in part by a $20,000 one-year grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation, planning is underway through June to develop recommended policies and practices for businesses that choose to participate in the initiative, according to Katie Sugarman, Natick's prevention and outreach program manager.
The second phase is signing up businesses to participate in a one-year pilot program. Eligible employees will receive case management support from MassHire, a state program that provides workforce development.
Henry Schwan is the health reporter for the Daily News. Follow Henry on Twitter @henrymetrowest. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-626-3964.
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