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An estimated 60 million Americans suffer from some form of mental health issue in a given year.

Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

In 1998, Christine Berry started a new program – the first of its kind in Maine – that supported people with mental illness. That year, the High Hopes Clubhouse opened in Waterville. At the time, I was managing Marden’s and was the first person to offer a Clubhouse member employment.

With more than 300 clubhouses around the world, the clubhouse model is a collaborative community where members work side by side with staff to recover from mental illness and be placed in meaningful employment. This is achieved through education and social programs, as well as participation in running Clubhouse operations. In all Clubhouse placements, the member is an employee of the company, earns a competitive wage and receives a paycheck directly from the company.

I was proud to have clubhouse members work at Marden’s because they inspired all of us to work to our full potential. Maine now has four clubhouses, and my Administration will continue to support this worthy program.

Unfortunately, despite Maine’s efforts, society has been silent on the issue of mental illness for too long. Folks afflicted with mental disorders are stigmatized, and that stereotype leads to misinformation, which helps no one.

We must correct the immediate assumption that mental illness equals violence; it does not. Recent tragedies in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut are horrific and the loss of life unconscionable. Increasingly, experts are discovering mental health problems are an issue for those committing these violent acts.

The next step is to change the national conversation. A national dialogue is critical to changing the conversation surrounding mental health, improving understanding and removing the stigma.

This is why I have called on the Obama Administration and Maine’s Congressional Delegation to place a greater focus on mental health issues. In any given year, one in four adults experiences a mental health issue.

Recently, the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave Maine a B for its delivery of mental health care. The report cited that Maine increased its state mental health budget by 15 percent from 2009 to 2012 and created an award-winning re-entry program for young people who are afflicted by mental illness. However, the Alliance, which found problems in every state, gave the United States an overall grade of D for its delivery of mental health care.

In a time when budgets are constricted and federal funding is decreasing, states must have the flexibility to manage their own health care programs. It is imperative that states have the ability to determine how to best use their limited resources and protect our most vulnerable.

I maintain that our most vulnerable include those with mental illness. Recovery is real, and there are effective, evidenced-based and promising practices for prevention, intervention and treatments of mental illness. The clubhouses in Augusta, Bangor, Lewiston and Waterville are shining examples of how a communities can be strengthened though education and thoughtful decision-making.

Today, the State of Maine faces significant financial challenges, and policymaking is ongoing at the Capitol. In fact, during the upcoming weeks and months, legislators will debate and the public will add to the discussion regarding the biennial budget. Funding for mental health services is certain to be part of the conversation.

I have proposed 2 million dollars to fund services for mental health care throughout Maine. While we face difficulties to achieve a balanced budget, I commit to doing what I can to support mental illness initiatives that foster healthier individuals and communities.

To those who dedicate themselves to working with people suffering from mental illness, I commend you. For those needing mental health services, please call 2-1-1 to find out what programs are available in your area. There is a road to recovery, and we want to be there to help.

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