Serious, long-term mental illness describes disorders that cause severe disturbances in thinking, feeling and relating that result in a substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness may affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, income, religion or education. One in every five Americans experiences an episode of mental illness at some point in life. More hospital beds are occupied because of mental illness than because of any other illness.
There are many types of mental illness. Serious mental illnesses include schizophrenia, depression and manic depression. Symptoms of mental illness are varied and each person experiences it differently. Current research indicates that many severe mental illnesses are biological diseases that interfere with normal brain function. Genetic factors, family history, psychological or social factors, chronic medical illness, substance abuse and severe traumatic life crises can create a predisposition to mental illness. Mental illness is not the result of a lack of “willpower” or weak character. Mental illness can strike at any age, even when a child is very young or in elderly people.
Since making a definitive diagnosis of mental illness during childhood is very difficult, particularly as children may have learning disabilities and other neurological problems as well. The federal government and many professionals use only the term emotional disturbance when referring to mental health problems in children. Emotional disturbance varies in seriousness and may result in functional disability in several life spheres, such as an inability to function socially at an appropriate level, to exhibit appropriate behavioral controls and judgment, and to perform academically at grade level. Homelessness, or being a victim of or witness to physical or sexual abuse, neglect or violent behavior at home or in the community can also contribute to emotional disturbance.
Researchers continue to pursue the study of how biochemical, psychological, genetic and environmental factors interact and contribute to the onset of mental illness and severe emotional disturbance.
The majority of psychiatric disorders can be effectively treated. Treatment, which often combines medications with therapeutic and social rehabilitation interventions, can effectively alleviate the severe symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, halt the downward spiral of those experiencing a depressive disorder and stabilize children and adolescents suffering from severe emotional disturbance.
Community support services are a critical component of rehabilitation and recovery. Adults with mental illness benefit from community-based support services that help build self-confidence through learning or relearning living and employment skills. Living independently, building social relationships, getting an education and holding a job are goals for most people with mental illness while others may need supports for long periods to achieve and maintain stability. The goal of treatment is to provide people with mental illnesses the means to achieve the highest degree of independence and productivity clinically possible.
For mentally ill or severely emotionally disturbed children and adolescents, the goal of treatment is to provide symptom relief and to build self-confidence through improved interpersonal, academic, social and vocational skills so that a successful integration or reintegration into family, school and recreational activities can occur. One of the most important components of these services is to provide support services to siblings and parents. These services include teaching the family strategies for managing the child or adolescent’s behavior, securing school and other community services that can assist the child and family, and assuring that each family member’s needs get met.
Description of Mental Illness provided by Massachusetts’ Department of Mental Health, “Resource Guide to the Department of Mental Health”, March 2008.
Boston Resource Center – The Boston Resource Center has various support groups, gym access, a library, computer access and the Karl Ackerman Recovery Real Instruction Lab. Opportunities to connect with other people with lived experience with mental health issues. The BRC is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am-3pm.
Cole Resource Center – The Cole Center is a community organization that advocates for those with psychiatric illness and provides information and support for the mentally ill, their families and friends. The Center fulfills its mission by offering social activities, a teen mentor program, and work experience for consumers, and education for consumers, physicians and the community. Cole Center provides consultations in housing search information, health insurance, low cost medications, volunteer employment, legal advocacy and support.
PO Box 79226
Waverley, MA 02479
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Boston (DBSA Boston) – Nonprofit, self-help organization run by and for people with affective disorders. Includes support group listings, event calendar and a bookstore.
115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478
Office Hours: Tues, Wed, Thurs, 11:00AM – 4:00PM
Independent Living Centers – Independent Living Centers are private, nonprofit, consumer-controlled, community-based organizations providing services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities. Independent Living Center services include information and referral; independent living skills development training; peer support; advocacy; housing assistance, educational- and social / recreational activities.
Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) – Sets the standards for the operation of mental health facilities and community residential programs and provides clinical, rehabilitative and supportive services for adults with serious mental illness, and children and adolescents with serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbance.
Emergency /Crisis HELP: 877-382-1609
2019 Multicultural Mental Health Resource Directory (PDF) – DMH offers this state wide directory with information about organizations in Massachusetts that offer culturally and linguistically appropriate services for communities of color, LGBTQ community, deaf and hard of hearing community, immigrants, and refugees.
- Department of Public Health Substance Abuse Helpline: 800-327-5050
- Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline
- Bureau of Substance Addiction Services
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mass Chapter – National Alliance on Mental Illness has 41 regularly scheduled support groups that offer family support, education and grassroots awareness.
400 West Cummings Park, Suite 6650
Woburn, MA 01801
Info & Referral: 800-370-9085
National Empowerment Center – Located in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Provides information & referral, networking, lectures, workshops and consultations. Spanish interpretation available.
Information & Referral Line: 800-769-3728
Parent / Professional Advocacy League (PPAL) – Statewide organization of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. Provides support, training and technical assistance to a large network of Parent / Professional Advocacy League family support specialists.
Toll Free: 866-815-8122
Central MA Line: 508-767-9725
Parents Helping Parents – Providing hope for children with mental health needs and their families through education, advocacy, outreach and support
Support Groups 800-882-1250 x101
Statewide Crisis Line 800-632-8188
SMART Recovery – SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors including alcoholism and drug addictions. Offers free online and face-to- face meetings.
Frequently asked questions
New England Chapter
Transformation Center – Offers training programs for jobs as leaders of peer support groups, peer workers in mental health programs, and also educational retreats for activists and Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) training. Also runs the Youth Commission and a restraint/seclusion reduction initiative and education programs.
98 Magazine St, Roxbury, MA
Toll free: 877-769-7693
Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) – Peer run program focusing on mental health and recovery. Key concepts of the program are hope, personal responsibility, education, self advocacy and support.
Center for Public Representation – Nonprofit public law firm providing mental health law and disability law services. Representation for those residing in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and in the community.
Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) – Provides free legal representation for consumers facing commitment hearings.
Disability Law Center – Free legal representation to low income people in areas of 766 special education, access to community services, disability discirimination, disability benefits, rights & conditions in facilities and accessibility.
Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee – State agency providing free legal representation for individuals, families and associations involved in the mental health system. Website has “Guide for Tenants with Mental Health Issues” available for download.
617-338-2345 or 800-342-9092
Providers / Therapists:
Psychology Today Therapists in Massachusetts – Massachusetts mental health providers, psychologists, mental health counselor, social worker locator
MassHealth requires primary care providers to offer standardized behavioral health screenings at well child visits, mental health clinicians to use a standardized behavioral health assessment tool, and provides new or enhanced home and community-based behavioral health services. CBHI also includes a larger interagency effort to develop an integrated system of state-funded behavioral health services for children, youth and their families.
To learn more about the medically necessity requirements for each CBHI service, click the links below:
- In-Home Therapy
- Intensive Care Coordination
- Therapeutic Mentoring
- In-Home Behavioral Services
- Family Support & Training
- Mobile Crisis Intervention
- Find a CBHI Provider
Children under 21 with MassHealth with Autism Spectrum Disorders who also have a co-existing psychiatric disorder may be eligible for a range of home-based services through the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI). This may present an option for children who do not have access to a private insurance that complies with the ARICA mandate.
Recovery Learning Communities
- Central Massachusetts RLC – Kiva Centers
209 Shrewsbury St.
Worcester, MA 01604
- Metro Boston RLC
c/o Boston Resource Center
Solomon Carter Fuller MHC
85 E. Newton Street, 5th FL
Boston, MA 02118
- Northeast RLC
c/o Justin Brown
Northeast Independent Living Program
20 Ballard Road
Lawrence, MA 01843
Phone: 978-687-4288 x130
- Southeast RLC – five locations: Fall River, Taunton, Brockton, Hyannis and Quincy
45 Plant Road Suite 119
Hyannis, MA 02601
- Western Massachusetts RLC – Wildflower Alliance
187 High Street, Suite 303
Holyoke, MA 01040
Toll free: 866-641-2853
Phone: 413-539-5941 x200
Fact Sheet last updated on: 11/2/2021
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