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Alexandria, VA – During the challenging times of a global pandemic, where screening data from Mental Health America (MHA) consistently shows extreme rates of depression, anxiety, isolation, and loneliness, the organization is recognizing three leaders for stepping up with critical resources to support their communities’ mental health needs.

N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy, Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, and Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker were honored today with MHA’s national B4Stage4 Leadership Award, which recognizes excellence in mental health. This prestigious award signifies a commitment to treating behavioral health conditions before they’ve hit Stage 4 – a crisis. The award also recognizes ongoing support of the behavioral health community.

“We are honored to recognize leaders making a difference on the front lines of mental health. Half of Americans are struggling with mental health this year, and the need for leaders who will advocate for mental health resources has never been greater,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of MHA. “Governors Baker, Murphy, and Wolf have shown a deep commitment to raising awareness about mental health needs and they are prioritizing policy changes to create systemic reforms.”

Governor Murphy (N.J.)

Since Gov. Murphy took office in 2018, he has demonstrated his commitment to continuously improving access to care for people with mental illness and substance use disorders with his support of MHA affiliate Mental Health Association in New Jersey.

“In New Jersey, we recognize that taking care of our mental health is an important part of taking care of our overall health, and we must continue to work at eliminating the stigma that persists for those seeking mental health care,” Gov. Murphy said in his acceptance speech.

In 2020, Gov. Murphy supported and signed the law requiring the inclusion of mental health education in the health curriculum for public school students in grades K-12. At the very beginning of the pandemic, he also ensured that telehealth visits for mental health services would be covered, and in 2020 announced more than $2.8 million in funding for vital behavioral health services, helping expand access to counseling and support services, including the launch of a new mental health hotline, NJ MentalHealthCares.

Governor Baker (Mass.)

Gov. Charlie Baker has been a supporter of MHA affiliate Massachusetts Association for Mental Health during his six years in office.

“It’s an honor to be a recipient of MHA’s B4Stage4 Governor’s Award this year,” said Gov. Baker. “Our administration is proud to treat behavioral health with the urgency it requires, increasing state spending by more than $400 million and expanding access to care through innovations like telehealth. We remain committed to doing all we can to prioritize behavioral health, reduce stigma and get people the help they need.”

From 2015-2019, his administration invested $1.9 billion in behavioral health across the spectrum of care. In 2019, Gov. Baker introduced comprehensive health care legislation, which included promoting access to behavioral health and reducing its costs to consumers. During the pandemic, he launched a new crisis counseling assistance program, MassSupport, in English and Spanish. This month, Gov. Baker also signed comprehensive health care legislation that requires coverage of telehealth services for behavioral health care.

Governor Wolf (Pa.)

Gov. Wolf is celebrated by all the Mental Health America Affiliates who are members of the  Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania who are proud that under his leadership, Pa. was ranked number one in 2020 in the State of Mental Health in America report.

“Our country needs to do more to improve access to mental health care...and we’ll succeed by working together, lifting up programs that work, and by continuing our advocacy,” Gov. Wolf said in his acceptance speech. One such successful program he often recognizes is Pa.’s Behavioral HealthChoices Program, which serves Medicaid consumers. This program is an example of the strong partnership between state government and the counties, serving some of our most vulnerable citizens.

In Jan. 2020, Gov. Wolf launched a multi-agency effort and anti-stigma campaign, “Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters.” The campaign, aimed at expanding resources and the state’s comprehensive support of mental health and related health care priorities, included programs such as expanding the training for hundreds of constituent affairs personnel on suicide prevention and mental health intervention, ensuring health insurance coverage provides access to affordable mental health care, and increasing the number of highly qualified school social workers. 

About MHA’s Regional Policy Council Meeting

The honored governors accepted their awards as part of MHA’s virtual Regional Policy Council Meeting. The council, launched in 2009, meets regularly to form a nationwide movement for a robust mental health system that promotes prevention and early intervention initiatives, access to integrated community-based treatments and supports that are recovery-focused and that encompass community inclusion.