A Facebook video now viewed more than 67,000 times and counting shows a clearly disturbed man yelling slurs at employees of a deli in downtown Portland late last month.

But to her credit, the deli’s owner, Michaela McVetty, saw more than one man harassing her workers — she saw a broken system desperately in need of attention.

“This is what happens when mental health is ignored,” McVetty wrote in the Facebook post. “This is what happens when people are using drugs in Monument Square and it is ignored. This is what happens when a City doesn’t have programs in place to deal with unstable people. This is what happens when the City doesn’t want to deal with it.”

It takes real perspective to see that the scariest thing about the incident was not the rantings of an often-incoherent person, but that the same thing occurs so often that other business owners reacted not with shock, but with empathy — and with anger that it is a daily fact of life wherever a lot of people congregate.

McVetty’s statement was only incomplete in that it characterized this as a problem only for the city of Portland. As Maine’s largest city, and the location of so many end-of-the-road services — shelters, food kitchens, crisis intervention — the by-products of untreated mental illness and addiction are certainly the most conspicuous there.

But they also are evident in any community of a certain size — the scene on the video could just have easily been in Lewiston, Bangor, or Augusta. (That’s not to mention the people in all corners of the state suffering in isolation.)


And because Portland is a magnet for people on the margins originating in towns all over the state, it is neither fair nor effective to place the final responsibility for them solely in the city’s hands.

No, the lack of mental health and addiction treatment is a statewide concern, and one the state is not doing a very good job of addressing.

Six years in, it has become clear that Maine is not doing enough to stop the growth of the opioid crisis, an epidemic that overlaps with mental illness in many respects.

And community-based services do not receive the appropriate level of resources, and never really have following the 1996 closure of the state-run institution at Pineland for Mainers with mental and developmental disabilities, which speaks to both the demand for resources and the lack of political will to prescribe them.

Some Medicaid reimbursement rates for community mental health treatment have stayed stagnant for years, losing value in real terms and making it impossible for providers to deliver services in the scope necessary. Others have been cut outright. Both have been under constant assault by the LePage administration, which says the system needs to be restructured.

Advocates and providers, however, have argued convincingly that the “restructuring” merely keeps people from accessing care, lowering state costs but making sure that Mainers will suffer. The Legislature addressed some of the rate problems this last session, but the years of neglect will continue to hurt.

Even youth mental health services — who can argue against those? — are entirely insufficient.

Both teens and adults whose mental illness is left untreated end up in the emergency room, jail or on the street. Social service agencies hold the lid on when they can, but it eventually boils over, just as it appeared to in that Portland deli.

McVetty, the deli’s owner, met with Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling following the incident. Her words, broadcasted in another Facebook video, should guide the state: “This movement is not about that one man at this one deli that one time. This is something much bigger.”

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