An Overview of Mental Health in Portland, Maine
Portland, Maine’s many charms include the oldest working lighthouse in the country, constructed in 1791. Built on the Portland Peninsula, Portland is a fishing port in Cumberland County, as well as the largest city in Maine. It is closer to Europe than any other U.S. port. Around 40 percent of the state’s population lives in the Portland metro area. The famous poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, grew up here; his family home is a tourist attraction. Maine is America’s safest state, and it has the lowest violent crime rate.
Since 94.4 percent of Maine’s population is white, Maine has the least diversity in the nation. For non-white citizens, obtaining mental health care could be problematic; a difference in ethnicity between the provider and the client may inhibit finding a good fit. In some cultures, seeking treatment for mental illness is unacceptable, further stigmatizing people who are ethnically in the minority.
Mental Health Issues in Portland
In a study of national suicide rates covering nearly two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2018 that the suicide rate in Maine increased by 27.4 percent. Clearly, mental health services have not kept pace with treatment needs. The Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness states that mental illness affects 25 percent of Maine citizens.
The CDC noted an alarming trend that made national news headlines: Of the 27 states included in suicide research data, over 50 percent of the total suicide victims did not exhibit any signs of mental illness before terminating their lives. According to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, this does not necessarily mean individuals were not ill; instead, it may give additional support to evidence that people are not receiving mental health diagnoses and the follow-up treatment they desperately need.
A troubling statistic noted by a former president of the American Psychological Association is that suicides among women are catching up to the number of suicide deaths by men. Numbers are even higher among female veterans.
Students in Crisis at Portland Schools
Maine educators, including the South Portland School Superintendent and Portland School Assistant Superintendent, note that Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services budget for 2018 has cut funding for critical mental health programs in their schools.
For example, a South Portland school superintendent’s district had partnered with an agency to improve school attendance and provide mental health programs. The state budget no longer financially supports the program. In another Portland school district, the state shut down middle school and high school mental health clinics that provided critical mental health counseling to students.
The executive director of a Maine psychological association notes that insurance companies undercut mental health care programs, even though national laws require that health insurance coverage must include significant mental health treatment. Insurance providers skirt the law by offering a few token therapy sessions, somewhat like placing a Band-Aid on a severed artery.
Obstructions to Portland Mental Health Access
Maine is a mental health care professional shortage area listed by the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation. According to recent data, the state has only met 33.58 percent of the number of mental health practitioners needed to remove the HPSA designation. Calculations determine the needs of the community and the ratio of available providers. Maine is still over two-thirds behind in providers needed to meet the state’s mental health treatment needs.
Barriers to achieving mental health access in Portland include:
- Low mental health provider ratios.
- Cultural and language issues for minorities.
- The stigma of mental illness means citizens may not seek help.
- Insufficient mental health component in insurance plans.
- Withdrawal of state funding, particularly for school programs.
- High suicide rate.
- Lower quality of care given to minorities.
- Undiagnosed mental illness results in a
- Substance abuse can cause or worsen mental illness.
Mental Health Services Are Available for Portland Residents
Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHS) evaluates substance abuse and services for mental health. Maine’s National Alliance on Mental Illness is a U.S. group of advocates who represent those affected by mental illness.
Successful treatment of mental illness for Portland citizens is possible. E-Counseling’s directory can help bring together people who need help and certified therapists who can guide the journey to positive change.