Gov. Markell signs mental health, suicide prevention legislation

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Governor Jack Markell reportedly signed into law two pieces of legislation that reform Delaware’s approach to mental health and suicide prevention.

Senate Bills 245 and 281 were both apparently results of the Senate’s Behavioral and Mental Health Task Force.

SB 245 reportedly established a Behavioral and Mental Health Commission responsible for overseeing and monitoring Delaware’s mental health system, while also working to implement Task Force recommendations and to submit annual reports to the governor and General Assembly.

Senator Bethany Hall-Long sponsored the legislation and said that it underscores Delaware’s commitment to its most vulnerable citizens.

“Delaware faces a host of urgent mental and behavioral health problems not least of which is an addiction epidemic that takes a life every two days,” Hall-Long said. “That led us to convene the Behavioral and Mental Health Task Force and to develop 42 specific recommendations to help address the problem. This Commission is in place not only to help implement those recommendations, but to signal that our work is far from done. As a nurse, I know that anyone seeking treatment-let alone thousands of Delawareans suffering in silence-needs us to commit to improving mental health services not just this year, but every year.”

Representative Debra Heffernan, a task force member and prime House sponsor of both bills, noted that part of the Commission’s work will include expanding and improving the state’s mental health workforce.

“The task force gave us a to-do list for Delaware, and at the top of that list was the creation of a permanent Behavioral Health Commission to pick up where the task force left off,” said Heffernan, who chairs the House Health and Human Development Committee. “One of the big jobs for this Commission will be to help close the gaps we know exist in our behavioral and mental health workforce, which has seriously impacted access to care for patients and families across the state.”

President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, who joined Senator Hall-Long as a co-prime sponsor of SB 245 and a task force co-chair, reportedly applauded the signing as a victory for families across Delaware.  

“Virtually all of us know someone whose life has been affected by behavioral and mental health problems like depression or substance abuse,” Blevins said. “Tragically, it’s a story that has unfolded over far too many kitchen tables as parents watch their children suffer. Make no mistake: this is a health crisis, and we owe it to our kids to treat it like one. I’m proud to have been part of the effort to address this problem head-on-and, more importantly, I’m proud of our State for making it an ongoing priority.”

Blevins was also the prime sponsor of SB 281, which codifies Delaware’s Suicide Prevention Coalition.

“Suicide isn’t just a public health problem, it’s a devastating, permanent, and preventable loss that makes victims out of entire families and communities,” Blevins said. “The Suicide Prevention Coalition is in place to take a scientific and proactive approach to suicide prevention, and to defend against the gaps in our mental health care system that fail Delawareans in severe crisis.”

“The Task Force’s efforts to identify the gaps and needs of Delaware behavioral health services is an important step forward in helping to reduce the state’s suicide rates,” said Jim Lafferty, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Delaware and Task Force member.

Officials say that since 2004, stakeholders have worked within the confines of the Delaware Suicide Prevention Coalition to raise awareness regarding suicide in Delaware and provide education about warning signs.

“Identifying the gaps along with increasing education and referrals of people to these services will help those with suicidal ideation and attempts,” said Lafferty. “The Mental Health Association also appreciates the legislation to formally establish the Delaware Suicide Prevention Coalition. The coalition is made up of a number of behavioral health professionals who are dedicated to reducing suicide in Delaware, and continuing their efforts in the future will result in a long lasting, positive impact.”

Categories: Delaware, Health