EDITORIAL: Clinician adds to proud history of care

The crises with mental health and substance abuse in America are well documented. For too many years, there was not enough attention focused on the scale of what is now seen as a twofold epidemic.  Seeking professional help and admitting to mental health struggles would often lead to stigmatizing the very people needing help. Complicating the need for more access to professional care, we had to confront the COVID pandemic of the past three years. Fortunately, the tide is turning, and more attention is being focused on the need to provide services.

Marblehead has not escaped this crisis, but it has long made mental health a priority for its citizens. For over 50 years, the Marblehead Counseling Center has existed to provide mental health and social services to our residents and to residents.

A combination of town revenues through the Board of Health budget, clinical fees and citizen donations has allowed the Center to grow over the years. It now provides in excess of 6,000 clinical hours annually to persons of all age groups, addressing a wide range of conditions such as depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and other diagnosable conditions.

We also have the Marblehead Mental Health Task Force, composed of town officials, volunteer residents and professionals who, as stated on its website, have come together for the purpose to ensure that they are addressing and providing the appropriate intervention strategies to guide our citizens — particularly the most vulnerable — toward improved mental health.

And now, adding to these pre-existing resources, our police chief, Dennis King, has found a way to augment the work of his department when dealing with police calls for service that involve persons who are likely struggling with their own mental health or substance abuse issues.  For the past six months Gina Rabbitt, a mental health clinician, now accompanies police officers on many such calls, bringing her expertise to assist those in need of mental health services, often leading to professional care instead of criminal prosecution and possible incarceration.

Funding for Rabbitt’s position comes not from town funds but rather from the Jail Diversion Program, a state-funded program that provides grants to municipalities for such services and for police personnel training on crisis-intervention techniques.

During his last 12 years as a member of the Salem Police Department, King worked with the Department of Mental Health to provide such services and training in Salem. He brought to his current position not only the experience of addressing mental health and substance abuse issues through a police department but also the expertise to write grants properly for these state funds.

In the short time King has led the Marblehead Police Department, he has secured grants totaling $250,000 for use to divert persons otherwise headed to the criminal courts to mental health services appropriate for their struggles. We are fortunate to have him as our chief of police.

Much work remains to be done here in Marblehead and throughout the nation when addressing our mental health and substance abuse problems, but we should be proud of the work done and being done by the combined efforts of the Marblehead Counseling Center, the Marblehead Mental Health Task Force and the Marblehead Police Department.

The Current Editorial Board
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The members of the Current’s editorial board are Ed Bell, who serves as chairman, and Virginia Buckingham, both members of the Current’s board of directors; Kris Olson and Will Dowd, members of the Current’s editorial staff; and Robert Peck and Joseph P. Kahn. Peck is an attorney, former chairman of Marblehead’s Finance Committee and a former Select Board member. Kahn is a retired Boston Globe journalist.

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