May is Mental Health Month


A column by state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan

By Leominster Champion | on May 18, 2017

As the chair of the Mental Health, Substance Use, and Recovery Committee, May is a very busy time. It has been dubbed Mental Health Month, and it is an important time for advocacy on policies regarding mental health, access to services, education, and awareness. It is critical to have this time be devoted to such an important topic that affects so many people.

In the United States, May has been recognized as Mental Health Month since 1949. The dedication of May as Mental Health Month began as a way to bring awareness to mental illness and to educate people on how to access services. Mental health may be a less taboo topic today, but there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. As a result, advocacy is as significant today as it was in the past. The more we educate, the more comfortable people will feel getting help. This is critically important, especially for children, to see that needing support for ourselves is nothing to be embarrassed about.

To kick off Mental Health Month, each year my office holds an event at the end of April to educate the community on various issues surrounding mental health. This year, my office had the pleasure of hosting our event at Mount Wachusett Community College. Dr. Heather Brenhouse from Northeastern University presented on the brain’s neurological response to childhood trauma. Her presentation was fascinating and provided a lot of insight on how we will be viewing, treating, and preventing mental illness in the future. I look forward to reading more about her research to see how her team can further develop their data.

Mental illness looks very different depending on the age, sex, gender, and experience of the individual person. As a result, there are certain days and weeks in May that are dedicated to specific populations of people who are vulnerable to mental illness. For example, May 8 is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and the first week in May is Maternal Mental Health Week. Organizations do this to highlight services and bring awareness to certain populations. These campaigns are a great way to educate and inform.

May is the perfect time to start practicing wellness. There are many ways to access information for mental health resources. For information on accessing services for mental health treatment, visit the following sites and explore some of the resources they have to offer:,, and

Flanagan to Host Mental Health Month Kickoff Event

By Leominster Champion | on April 20, 2017

ARDNER — State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) will be hosting the 15th annual Mental Health Month Kick Off event at Mount Wachusett Community College on Wednesday, April 26 at 4 p.m.

This year’s speaking program will feature Dr. Heather Brenhouse from Northeastern University. Brenhouse is an assistant professor of psychology at Northeastern focusing on behavioral neuroscience, developmental neuroscience, and psychology. Her research has been funded by the Brain Behavior Research Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. Brenhouse will be presenting on her research, specifically the brain’s reaction to trauma in children.

Prior to the speaking program, there will be a provider information fair featuring human services agencies from all over North Central Massachusetts. This fair will offer resources and guidance from representatives of the various agencies. The provider fair will begin at 4 p.m., and the speaking program will follow at 5 p.m. This event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided.

If you have questions regarding this event, or would like to have your business or agency featured during the provider fair, please call Flanagan’s office at (617) 722-1230.

April is critical to advocate for autism awareness

By Leominster Champion | on April 20, 2017

April 2 is recognized as Autism Awareness Day. Given the rising number of children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, April is a critical month for advocacy. Massachusetts has several items on the budget and legislative agenda related to autism this session. It is important that my colleagues and I put forth priorities that will help those diagnosed with autism and their families.

According to Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts, there are 37,000 individuals and families on the Department of Developmental Services caseload. These individuals are served by the funding provided in the state’s budget.

There are several priorities for DDS in this year’s budget. Those include the line items of Turning 22, Day Employment, Community Residential, and Transportation. Fortunately, these were also fully funded by Gov. Charlie Baker and the House of Representatives.

The Turning 22 line item is especially important given the increase in individuals who are in need of that support. In 2010, there were 630 individuals who were qualified to access the Turning 22 benefit, and in 2018 there will be 975.

In addition to Turning 22, Family Support and Respite Services is also a crucial line item. Respite services are critical for families who are caring for their loved ones. Families are often the main caretakers, and they also need and deserve a break too. It is cost effective to support these families, and they deserve the assistance from the Commonwealth.

These programs give individuals purpose, opportunity and structure that is helpful in day-to-day living. Supporting these line items is crucial to the sustainability of DDS programs that assist persons who have spectrum disorders. I hope that all of my colleagues recognize the significance of these programs, and how much they matter to families caring for their loved ones. Let’s fully fund these programs and ensure that people have the services they need to survive and thrive in society.

In addition, in order to recognize Mental Health Month coming up in May, I will be hosting a kickoff event at Mount Wachusett Community College featuring Dr. Heather Brenhouse of Northeastern University. This event is being held Wednesday, April 26 at 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be provided.

Begining of 2017-18 Legislative Session is Upon Us

By Leominster Champion | on January 19, 2017
A column by state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan

All Massachusetts legislators have been sworn in, and a new legislative session is upon us. January is an exciting time to start fresh, and I am confident that my colleagues and I will tackle this upcoming session with energy. There are so many critically important issues on the line that prioritizing is certainly a challenge. However, each legislator does have their own set of priorities, and I would like to outline a few of mine.

Last legislative session, I was the chair for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities Committee, and the Special Senate Committee on Opioids. Due to my leadership on these committees, my legislative priorities were aligned with these issues.

This coming session, I have similar aspirations. I hope to address deficiencies in the mental health system, improve suicide prevention programs, tackle the legalization of marijuana while also continuing to work on substance abuse legislation, and make improvements within the Department of Children and Families.

Mental health is always on my agenda, but this session I would like to focus on rising mental illness among our youth. There have been increasing diagnoses of mental illness among children, and this is creating a major problem for schools, hospitals, and families. I want to look at the big picture to analyze where we can have more support and what services need to be increased. Coinciding with legislation for mental health is suicide prevention. This has always been a topic near and dear to my heart, and I want to evaluate what more we can do to eliminate suicide. There are some wonderful organizations in North Central Massachusetts working hard to lower the number of suicides that occur in our district. I would love for the Legislature to be able to echo and support their efforts.

Another major topic my colleagues and I will be tackling is marijuana legalization. Massachusetts residents voted to legalize marijuana, so my colleagues and I will be working to ensure proper policies will be implemented. Legislators want to be certain that this takes place in the most responsible way possible. There are many moving parts to legalizing marijuana, and establishing firm regulations is crucial. Given that this is a first for the Commonwealth, we will all be moving as cautious as possible.

In recent sessions, we have been lucky enough to pass two bills related to treatment for substance abuse in an effort to combat the epidemic plaguing the Commonwealth. The first was passed in 2014 to provide people with greater access to treatment by mandating insurance companies cover at least 14 days of treatment. In 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker signed Treatment, Prevention, and Education, which covers a wide array of services and prevention efforts that we hope will reduce substance addiction. We hope to keep the ball moving forward and look at post-treatment issues such as access to housing and jobs.

Finally, we will be working to improve the Department of Children and Families by providing the department with the resources necessary to do their jobs. We are looking forward to introducing legislation to create positive developments and team up with the department to ensure success with keeping families in the Commonwealth safe and healthy.

Rare Disease Day Stops Illnesses from Going Unnoticed

A column by state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan

By Leominster Champion | on February 16, 2017

Feb. 28 is Rare Disease Day in the United States and across the globe. In the U.S., a “rare disease” is one that affects fewer than 200,000 Americans at any given time. It is estimated that 50 percent of rare diseases are identified in children. Due to a lack of education and awareness on rare diseases, most go misdiagnosed for long periods of time, leading to continued suffering, worry, panic, and pain. In addition, when a diagnosis for a rare disease is given, there is typically no cure. There is also little push to fund treatment, experimentation, and/or research into the disease within the medical community because of the low number of individuals who are diagnosed.

It is for these reasons that Rare Disease Day is so critical. It sheds light on illnesses that otherwise go unnoticed. Having a dedicated day for spreading awareness on rare diseases allows the public and policymakers an opportunity to become educated on rare diseases, and to learn about the work that needs to be done for those who are afflicted. This is how the implementation of new and appropriate public health policy is created.

Legislators should meet the people who have been diagnosed with a rare disease, and hear their personal stories to learn about the challenges they regularly face. By understanding the issue, proper policy can be created. This is a great example of why advocacy, on any subject, is critical. Rare Disease Day is the perfect advocacy opportunity for legislators to see what work needs to be done to ensure that proper research is completed in the medical field for these diseases. Even though a disease is rare, it does not mean those suffering should be overlooked.

For people who have rare diseases, research is the single most important factor that is standing between suffering or being able to have some quality of life. When Feb. 28 comes around this year, consider learning about some of the rare diseases that are affecting your neighbors. Education, awareness, and advocacy are what brings attention to issues.

I would like to encourage all those reading this to help people struggling with rare diseases by spreading the word and advocating on Feb. 28. For more information and resources, visit


Senator Jennifer Flanagan, Representative Kimberly Ferguson named to special panel on behavioral health

Sentinel & Enterprise

UPDATED:   02/24/2017 04:56:32 PM EST

BOSTON - Sen. Jennifer Flanagan of Leominster and Rep. Kimberly Ferguson of Holden on Friday announced their appointments to serve on the Special Commission on Behavioral Health Promotion and Upstream Prevention.

Created as part of the fiscal 2017 state budget, the commission is charged with investigating evidence-based practices, programs and systems to prevent behavioral health disorders and promote behavioral health across the state.

In addition to developing recommendations for improving behavioral health in Massachusetts through early detection and intervention, the commission will also focus on increasing collaboration at the state and local levels between community coalitions and public health, mental health, health care, education, social services and public safety organizations.

"I want to thank Senate President Rosenberg for having the confidence in me to serve on this special commission," Flanagan, a Democrat, said in a statement. "The importance of prevention is critical when trying to combat violence and promote overall health."

Ferguson a Republican, said she is eager to work with Flanagan on the issue.

"Given my background in special education and speech/language pathology, I am thrilled to serve on this commission and I would like to thank House Minority Leader Bradley Jones for giving me the opportunity to do so," Ferguson, a Republican, said in the statement. "I feel that now more than ever it is critical to focus on behavioral health and I am looking forward to collaborating with Senator Flanagan on this important issue."

The commission will hold a minimum of three public hearings, and is required to issue a report within 24 months of its first meeting. The commission also has the option of making a draft report available for public comment before filing its final version.

Flanagan was co-chair of a similar special legislative panel that focused on the opioid epidemic in Massachusetts, work that led to legislation focused on prevention and treatment of opioid addiction.

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Opening a tool kit for healthy lives

Flanagan, Benson help unveil guide for work on psychological, substance-abuse issues

By Peter Jasinski,

Updated:   01/19/2017 09:01:10 AM EST


State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, D-Leominster, helps announce the formation of a guide for policymakers working to tackle mental-health and substance-abuse issues across the country. State Rep. Jennifer Benson, D-Lunenburg, looks on at right. COURTESY PHOTO

Sentinel and Enterprise staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

BOSTON -- Members of the national women legislators organization Women in Government, including state Sen. Jennifer Flanagan and state Rep. Jennifer Benson, announced Tuesday the formation of a guide for policymakers trying to tackle mental-health and substance-abuse issues across the country.

"I am extremely excited to be able to release the findings of this tool kit that my colleagues and I have been working on for quite some time," Flanagan said. "This tool kit will provide a best resources guide for legislators on a national scale who are looking to develop new policies for mental health an substance abuse disorders."

Flanagan and Benson were also joined by state Reps. Carole Fiola of Fall River, Hannah Kane of Shrewsbury and Claire Cronin of Easton for the announcement.

Women in Government developed their National Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorders in 2016 after hearing from members about the growing epidemics in their respective states. The task force met through the year in order to develop state policy responses, exchange ideas, and create effective partnerships.

Through their discussions, the task force identified several policy areas that affect mental health and substance abuse disorders, including the ability to provide access to coordinated, quality care, adequate professional training, housing instability for people wit mental health and substance abuse issues, and effectively collecting and utilizing data relevant to people suffering from these issues.


Other policy areas included making sure adequate care is available at all stages of recovery, reforming sentencing guidelines and prison programming for those with mental health and substance abuse issues, and fostering greater awareness in educational settings and in the community at large.

According to a statement released by Flanagan's office, Women in Government's guidelines will provide a best resources guide to assist legislators in developing policies to help constituents suffering from mental illness or substance abuse disorders.

Women in Government is a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization of women state legislators that provides leadership opportunities, networking, expert forums, and educational resources on policy issues.


Senator Flanagan Announces

78th Citizens' Legislative Seminar in March

An invitation to learn about the legislative process


BOSTON – Senator Flanagan announced today that they are seeking nominees to participate in the 78th Citizens' Legislative Seminar (CLS) to be held March 21 and March 22 at the State House in Boston.  CLS is a semi-annual educational seminar geared towards adults of all ages interested in learning more about state government and the legislative process. 


“The Citizens’ Legislative Seminar is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the legislative process and enhance your civic engagement," said Senator Flanagan. " I would encourage all of my constituents to participate in this informative program."


Established in 1976 through a collaborative effort of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts, the two-day seminar features engaging presentations by Senators and staff on aspects of the day-to-day experience of legislators in the Commonwealth. Topics will include the history and process of the Legislature, the parliamentary role of the Clerk of the Senate and the future of the Legislature. The Seminar will walk participants through the legislative process including how bills are introduced, debated, and passed.


“The Citizens’ Legislative Seminar is part of the Massachusetts Senate’s ongoing effort to increase civic engagement and open up the democratic process. It’s the perfect chance to come and gain an insider’s perspective from elected officials and staff on how the legislature works,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst). “This is an excellent learning experience and I encourage those interested to contact their senator.”


The CLS culminates with a simulated legislative hearing and Senate session where participants are invited to use what they have learned and participate as “Senators” in the Senate Chamber in order to have a first-hand experience of the legislative process.  


Interested residents in the Worcester and Middlesex District are invited to contact Annie Reiser by Friday January 20th at in order to be nominated by Senator Flanagan. Seats are limited and nominations are taken on a first come, first serve basis.

Senator Flanagan to Co-Chair the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators for the 2017-2018 Legislative Session


BOSTON- Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) announced today that she will serve as co-chair, along with Representative Colleen Gary (D-Dracut), of the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators for the 2017-2018 legislative session. 


The caucus aims to be a resource for all Massachusetts women by organizing programs across the Commonwealth that can assist with everything from health care to business ventures.  In addition,  the caucus works to support legislation that specifically addresses women's issues.  For example, An Act to Establish Pay Equity was a successful bill for the Women's Caucus signed into law this year by Governor Baker.


"I am honored to have the opportunity this legislative session to co-chair the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators and to have the chance to focus on the issues I really feel are important," said Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster).  "My goal is to work along with my colleagues to create an agenda that will positively affect all women in the Commonwealth."


The Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators was established in 1975 with a mission to enhance the economic status and equality of women and to encourage and support women in all levels of government.


Bolton, Lancaster, and Sterling to Receive META Grants

Senator Flanagan Announces Bolton, Lancaster, and Sterling to Receive Municipal Energy Technical Assistance (META) Grants

September 12, 2016- Senator Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) announced today that the towns of Bolton, Lancaster, and Sterling will be recipients of a Municipal Energy Technical Assistance Grant (META) by the Green Communities Division of the Department of Energy Resources (DOER). The following amounts are to be awarded: Bolton - $6,750, Lancaster -$5,000, and Sterling-$12,500.

META grants are open to all cities, towns, and regional planning authorities. They will fund the services of expert consultants and contractors to assist with a diverse array of local energy projects. Projects and studies receiving funding will support the performance of solar photovoltaic site evaluation, heating system replacements, ASHRAE Level II audits, technical analysis of energy use at drinking water and wastewater facilities and technical assistance with Green Community reporting and application.

Senator Flanagan Announces 77th Citizens' Legislative Seminar in October invitation to learn about the legislative process

BOSTON – Senator Flanagan announced today that they are seeking nominees to participate in the 77th Citizens' Legislative Seminar (CLS) to be held October 17-18 at the State House in Boston. CLS is a semi-annual educational seminar geared towards adults of all ages interested in learning more about state government and the legislative process.

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