OPINION: Mental Health Is A Silent Epidemic

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By Priscila Sousa

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FRAMINGHAM – An alarming percentage of the Massachusetts population is facing a second, silent epidemic: mental health. 

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine coming for this one, so legislators and elected officials must take action. Women, especially those in marginalized communities, have had to sacrifice mental hygiene in order to focus on their family’s survival, financial stability, children’s education and caring for loved ones. 

As a Latina, this isn’t a new issue to me. I see it in my community. I see it every time I go down to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic to work with women. I see it in Framingham. As School Committee Chair, I see it in our students and listening to our parents. As a volunteer in various local organizations, I see it in the women we serve. 

As we approach the close of Mental Health Awareness Month, it has never been more important to discuss this other epidemic touching every segment of our population. Mental health is a socioeconomic issue, an equity issue, a family issue and a children’s issue. The lack of equitable access to mental health support and how we treat mental health as a society has resulted in disastrous results around us. 

More members of the population are reporting symptoms of depression, anxiety and emotional de-regulation. In that group, women and children are disproportionately represented. All because mental health supports are more accessible to some than to others. Currently suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States among people aged 10-34.  

Unfortunately the issue goes much further than suicide. Our women are having to continue serving, working and moving without proper help in place and without the psychological stability to do it. This also puts them at a significant risk for long/short term disability, substance abuse, eating disorders and bodily harm, among others.

The rise in domestic abuse during the past two years has been staggering and underreported. Sexual assault, abuse via pregnancy, psychological harm, financial abuse and battery on women are all also on the rise. Mental health has also exacerbated substance abuse issues and the current opioid epidemic.Too many women are either suffering from it, caring for a loved one that is suffering from it, or victim of a partner or a family member who is suffering from it. 

This keeps me up at night. 

These are issues that fuel my work in Framingham FORCE. These are issues that fuel my work as Voices Against Violence’s Purple Passion Committee since 2018. These are issues that fuel my work as School Committee Chair. 

It is simply impossible to ignore. We need legislators who will follow Senate President Karen Spilka’s lead and continue to make moves to make mental health as much of a priority as physical health. Annual mental health check-ups are key. They will de-stigmatize the conversation.

Creating greater opportunities for so many in our community to get help by providing facilities and assistance, incentivizing the recruitment of professionals and funding mental health programs no longer remain on a wishlist. It is a must have today. 

Talking about mental health should not be limited to the month of May. It is a conversation we should have every day, every month. However, talking is not enough. Action on the state level to bring more parity to mental health care is critical. 

We must do better. We owe it to ourselves and our community to fight for mental health every day. 

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Priscila Sousa, Chair of the Framingham School Committee, is candidate for State Representative of the 6th Middlesex District. She can be reached at priscila.sousa08@gmail.com 

editor

email: editor@FraminghamSource.com call or text at 508-315-7176


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