Hannah Longley and Eric Samson

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the importance of mental health awareness and treatment has been drawn to the forefront of state and national attention.

However, as the need has arisen, the availability of services has dwindled to the point that officers are often thrust into the role of primary mental health responders.

From September through December 2021, police officers in Androscoggin County responded to over 167 mental health calls for service. Of those calls, 39% were stabilized in the community, with limited resources to refer the individual to; 36% were referred to crisis services; and 25% were transported to the emergency room.

These calls came from concerned community members, family and friends, and depleted community resources that had limited ability to respond. The statistics in Androscoggin County are not unique, as they represent a larger trend that has occurred across the state as mental health resources are experiencing a crisis that has resulted in limited access to necessary resources.

According to Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson, “In today’s environment, with the increase of calls related to people in need or in crisis situations, the resources the legislation has prioritized will be extremely beneficial to supporting our neighbors in the communities we serve. We look to divert as many individuals as possible from the correctional facilities and look for ways to support individuals who — sadly — end up in our care. We prefer the funding be provided to the appropriate community resources.”

The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department and NAMI Maine have diligently collaborated to ensure that those who are most at risk receive support. Sadly, 20% of young people who develop a severe and persistent mental illness receive their first formal intervention during an encounter with law enforcement.


Research also indicates that 70% of justice-involved youth also have a mental health challenge that is being untreated or undertreated.

In recent years, it was discovered that roughly 30% of the residents at the Androscoggin County Jail have been previously diagnosed with a mental health challenge, with the numbers being projected to increase due to the number of individuals who have been unable to receive appropriate treatment within the community setting, resulting in no diagnosis being given. County jails provide more mental health services than any other entity in the state, despite not being the appropriate entity.

The Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a budget providing critically needed funding for services. Mental health is not a partisan issue, which has become clear with the cooperation and collaboration that has emerged from both sides of the aisle to tackle these critical issues.

Funding will assist in stabilizing access to care for services such as assertive community treatment for adults with serious and persistent mental illness and home and community treatment for children, both evidence-based treatments, along with critical funding to stabilize and increase access to both crisis and outpatient mental health services.

As the 130th legislative session progresses, it is amazing to watch people coming together with concern and empathy to ensure some of our most vulnerable neighbors receive the care and treatment they deserve.

Hannah Longley is director of Community Programs with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maine. Eric Samson is sheriff of Androscoggin County.

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