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A lifeline for those struggling with mental health challenges

by Judith Hruz


Bill Baker is new to the Olney area.

He moved to Maryland just a few months ago for a temporary assignment with his company, which has locations in different parts of the country.

He has no family in the state, and so far, no friends other than co-workers.

He does, however, have depression, which makes the move – although important for his career – challenging for himself on a personal level.

When he read about the Thomas Bloom Raskin Act, passed by the General Assembly this year and signed into law by the governor, everything changed.

“I learned more about Tommy Raskin and felt like I had a friend,” Baker said.

The law, who many say is one of the most important pieces of legislation to come from the recent session of the Maryland General Assembly, went into effect July 1.

The Thomas Bloom Raskin Act, the first bill to be signed into law this year, provides wellness checks for people who are concerned about their mental health.

People who opt in for the service will get regular calls from a mental health crisis team.

If someone needs help, he or she will immediately be connected to someone who can help, said Del. Craig Zucker (D-Dist. 14), who was the primary sponsor of the bill on the Senate side of the chamber.

The law is named for the 25-year-old son of U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 8), who took his life on Dec. 31.

Zucker said Rep. Raskin and his wife. Sarah Bloom Raskin, graciously agreed to allow the law to be named for their son.

Zucker and his wife Jenny came up with the idea the day after Tommy died.

He said the bill is designed to bring light to people who might be struggling with mental health concerns and to prevent them from getting to a critical point.

Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Dist. 19), who sponsored the bill on the House side of the chamber — and was quick to do so when Zucker discussed it with her — stressed the importance of the law.

“We are trying to catch people before they are in crisis and calling the crisis hotline,” she said.

“We recognize there is a really significant need for mental health services,” she added.

Cullison said the service gives those who are signed up an opportunity to feel empowered that they are doing something for themselves.

It also allows them to get assistance while maintaining a certain level of anonymity.

Even though the need for mental health services has become a higher priority among lawmakers, health care providers and mental health advocates, many people with mental health challenges are hesitant to come forward and discuss them openly.

“I don’t come right out and say, ‘I have depression or sometimes anxiety,’ the very first time I meet someone, but if there is a reason to discuss it, I’m not embarrassed for people to know,” Baker said. “It’s who I am.”

He added, “But I know people who do everything they can to hide it. They are embarrassed and think people will think they are crazy.”

At press time, 147 people across the state had signed up for the service,” Zucker said.

A statewide marketing campaign was set to begin Aug. 16 to open a push enroll people who need the assistance, he said.

County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said “we need an all-hands-on-deck approach” to offering more services for people with mental illness.

“It’s critical, absolutely critical,” he said.

He applauded the General Assembly for the law and Jamie Raskin for knowing “how to turn his family’s sadness into something positive.”

At a June 21 press conference in Annapolis to highlight the importance of the law, Gov. Larry Hogan, also lauded Raskin, thanking him for his “leadership on this issue and for your willingness to channel your own grief  to help address the mental health crisis in Maryland and across the nation.”

Hogan added, “Countless lives will be spared because of the law that now bears your son’s name.”

The governor said he was very proud to sign the Thomas Bloom Raskin Act as the first law of the year.

Raskin called the law “a beautiful and enduring legacy” of his son.

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