Mental Health is Public Health: MCD Programs Seek to Improve Mental Health in Maine

May 24, 2022

Mental health awareness month graphic

In 2019, 13.6% of children aged 5 to 17 years and 19.2% of adults in the U.S. received mental health treatment in the past 12 months, including taking medication and seeking counseling or therapy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the mental health crisis in the U.S. and around the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25% during the first year of the pandemic alone.

Mental health is public health, and MCD is no stranger to assisting communities in the State of Maine in bettering their overall health and well-being. During Mental Health Awareness Month this May, three MCD staff members discuss how they are using their skills and expertise to mitigate the mental health crisis in Maine.

MCD Project Echo®

Sherri Billings

Sherri Billings, coordinator for the MCD ECHO Project®, is a mother of four and was a public-school mathematics teacher in Fryeburg, Maine, before coming to MCD earlier this year.

She believes that one of the most pressing mental-health challenges facing the U.S. today involves “creating a healthier public-school experience for all of the participants in the process.”

“Hope is planting seeds for the future. I have learned to be diligent, patient, and trusting of this process,” Billings said. “This activity has led me to accept an offer from MCD to be the coordinator of ECHO sessions that move knowledge at zoom speed to primary care providers, as a response to the behavioral health crisis that we are facing.”

The MCD Project ECHO® approach is an extension of the mission and vision set forth by the University of New Mexico's Project ECHO® (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a lifelong learning and guided practice model that revolutionizes medical education and increases workforce capacity to provide best-practice specialty care and reduce health disparities.

Since 2018, MCD has been an official Project ECHO® hub, embracing this model to share knowledge, leading multiple programs across diverse focus areas. Our teams are committed to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable populations by equipping communities with the right knowledge at the right place and time while delivering and supporting high-quality ECHO® programs with fidelity to the ECHO® model.

This includes assisting care providers in providing high-quality and accessible health services to rural and pediatric populations, specifically with behavioral health services.

“In my own learning and experiences, I have found that adverse childhood experiences, autism spectrum disorder and specific social determinants have a major impact on people’s health and well-being,” Billings said.

Healthy Lincoln County

Another MCD program, Healthy Lincoln County (HLC), has provided public health programs in Lincoln County, Maine, and supports thriving, healthy communities by working with partners in improving the health and well-being of residents of all ages.

HLC members holding up signs of encouragement for mental healthKelsey Robinson, director of HLC since last summer, believes that one of the most pressing mental-health challenges today involves the stigma with mental illness in general as well as seeking help and resources.

“There shouldn’t be any shame tied to taking care of yourself. The mind is in the head, and the head is on the body. Mental health is health,” Robinson said.

During the summer of 2021, HLC served more than 20,000 meals to children through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program; rescued and distributed more than 14,700 pounds of food to Lincoln County residents in 2021; and provided education on substance use prevention to more than 300 students in Lincoln County during the 2021-22 school year.

HLC’s work involves substance use prevention and food security, but it also “digs into mental health” and supports community members in different ways since everyone’s needs and available resources are unique.

One upcoming event that Robinson is excited about is the start of StoryWalk events in the county where books are selected and shared with both adult and children community members that focus on resiliency, family bonding, and empowerment as well as learning about positive affirmations and spending time outside together. She hopes that sharing books like these will support the mental health resiliency within the community.

“When I think about hope, I expect that vision to come true – that’s what keeps me going,” Robinson said. “I hope that with the work we do in the community, we can break down the stigma around mental health services and normalize the practice of nurturing ourselves, body and mind.”

Youth Suicide Prevention

According to the U.S. CDC, during 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits among youths aged 12 to 17 increased 31% compared to 2019.

MCD works with the Maine Center for Disease Control in staffing various public-health programs. One such program is the Garrett Lee Smith Youth Suicide Prevention Project that offers youth suicide prevention activities statewide.

Katie MacDonlad, the project’s coordinator, has been working in her role for three years and believes that “unpacking the grief of the ongoing pandemic will be one of our most pressing mental-health challenges in the coming years” and that in order to break stigmas and open doors to additional dialogues about suicide involves “talking about mental health openly with your friends and family.”

“A lot of my role is behind the scenes, administrative work. It is easy to get lost in spreadsheets and forget WHY this work is so important,” she said. “Hope is crucial to my role. Hope for the possibility of change, for making the lives of Maine youth better, is what gets me back to my desk each morning.”

One area of the program that MacDonald is most proud of involves the Youth and Family Navigator services, which is a new service in Maine that supports youth and their families and caregivers prior to needing a crisis intervention or after being released from an in-patient program. Currently, there are three full-time navigators employed across the state that can serve any youth for any length of time with any level of health insurance.

“They help provide suicide-prevention screening, lethal-means safety counseling, safety planning, and are able to provide referrals to additional services and resources. Their services are filling an important gap here in Maine,” she said.

MCD continues to implement its own programs, such as the MCD Project ECHO®, HLC, and Youth Suicide Prevention programs, as well as assist in staffing the public health workforce in the realm of mental health for the Maine CDC.

For more information regarding mental health resources, programs, and more, please refer to the following recommendations by Billings and Robinson:

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, please visit the Maine Department of Human Health Service’s Crisis Services at, or call the National Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787.

Staffing Workforce
Project ECHO
pandemic response
Mental Health