Mental Illness

Mental Illness

Serious, long-term mental illness describes disorders that cause severe disturbances in thinking, feeling and relating that result in a substantially diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life. Mental illness may affect anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, income, religion or education. One in every five Americans experiences an episode of mental illness at some point in life. More hospital beds are occupied because of mental illness than because of any other illness.

There are many types of mental illness. Serious mental illnesses include schizophrenia, depression and manic depression. Symptoms of mental illness are varied and each person experiences it differently. Current research indicates that many severe mental illnesses are biological diseases that interfere with normal brain function. Genetic factors, family history, psychological or social factors, chronic medical illness, substance abuse and severe traumatic life crises can create a predisposition to mental illness. Mental illness is not the result of a lack of “willpower” or weak character. Mental illness can strike at any age, even when a child is very young or in elderly people.

Since making a definitive diagnosis of mental illness during childhood is very difficult, particularly as children may have learning disabilities and other neurological problems as well.  The federal government and many professionals use only the term emotional disturbance when referring to mental health problems in children. Emotional disturbance varies in seriousness and may result in functional disability in several life spheres, such as an inability to function socially at an appropriate level, to exhibit appropriate behavioral controls and judgment, and to perform academically at grade level. Homelessness, or being a victim of or witness to physical or sexual abuse, neglect or violent behavior at home or in the community can also contribute to emotional disturbance.

Researchers continue to pursue the study of how biochemical, psychological, genetic and environmental factors interact and contribute to the onset of mental illness and severe emotional disturbance.

The majority of psychiatric disorders can be effectively treated. Treatment, which often combines medications with therapeutic and social rehabilitation interventions, can effectively alleviate the severe symptoms of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations and delusions, halt the downward spiral of those experiencing a depressive disorder and stabilize children and adolescents suffering from severe emotional disturbance.

Community support services are a critical component of rehabilitation and recovery. Adults with mental illness benefit from community-based support services that help build self-confidence through learning or relearning living and employment skills. Living independently, building social relationships, getting an education and holding a job are goals for most people with mental illness while others may need supports for long periods to achieve and maintain stability. The goal of treatment is to provide people with mental illnesses the means to achieve the highest degree of independence and productivity clinically possible.

For mentally ill or severely emotionally disturbed children and adolescents, the goal of treatment is to provide symptom relief and to build self-confidence through improved interpersonal, academic, social and vocational skills so that a successful integration or reintegration into family, school and recreational activities can occur. One of the most important components of these services is to provide support services to siblings and parents. These services include teaching the family strategies for managing the child or adolescent’s behavior, securing school and other community services that can assist the child and family, and assuring that each family member’s needs get met.

Description of Mental Illness provided by Massachusetts’ Department of Mental Health, “Resource Guide to the Department of Mental Health”, March 2008.


Boston Resource CenterThe Boston Resource Center has various support groups, gym access, a library, computer access and the Karl Ackerman Recovery Real Instruction Lab. Opportunities to connect with other people with lived experience with mental health issues. The BRC is open to the public on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am-3pm.
Phone: 617-305-9974

Cole Resource CenterThe Cole Center is a community organization that advocates for those with psychiatric illness and provides information and support for the mentally ill, their families and friends. The Center fulfills its mission by offering social activities, a teen mentor program, and work experience for consumers, and education for consumers, physicians and the community.  Cole Center provides consultations in housing search information, health insurance, low cost medications, volunteer employment, legal advocacy and support.
PO Box 79226
Waverley, MA 02479
Phone: 617-855-3298

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Boston (DBSA Boston) – Nonprofit, self-help organization run by and for people with affective disorders.  Includes support group listings, event calendar and a bookstore.
Phone: 617-855-2795
115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478
Office Hours: Tues, Wed, Thurs, 11:00AM – 4:00PM

Independent Living Centers – Independent Living Centers are private, nonprofit, consumer-controlled, community-based organizations providing services and advocacy by and for persons with all types of disabilities.  Independent Living Center services include information and referral; independent living skills development training; peer support; advocacy; housing assistance, educational- and social / recreational activities.

Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH)Sets the standards for the operation of mental health facilities and community residential programs and provides clinical, rehabilitative and supportive services for adults with serious mental illness, and children and adolescents with serious mental illness or serious emotional disturbance.

Emergency /Crisis HELP:  877-382-1609
InfoLine: 800-221-0053

2019 Multicultural Mental Health Resource Directory (PDF) – DMH offers this state wide  directory with information about organizations in Massachusetts that offer culturally and linguistically appropriate services for communities of color, LGBTQ community, deaf and hard of hearing community, immigrants, and refugees.

Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Addiction Services

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mass Chapter
National Alliance on Mental Illness has 41 regularly scheduled support groups that offer family support, education and grassroots awareness.
400 West Cummings Park, Suite 6650
Woburn, MA 01801
Phone: 781-938-4048
Info & Referral: 800-370-9085

National Empowerment Center Located in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Provides information & referral, networking, lectures, workshops and consultations. Spanish interpretation available.
Information & Referral Line: 800-769-3728

Parent / Professional Advocacy League (PPAL)Statewide organization of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health. Provides support, training and technical assistance to a large network of Parent / Professional Advocacy League family support specialists.

Toll Free: 866-815-8122
Central MA Line: 508-767-9725

Parents Helping ParentsProviding hope for children with mental health needs and their families through education, advocacy, outreach and support
Support Groups 800-882-1250 x101
Statewide Crisis Line 800-632-8188

SMART RecoverySMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors including alcoholism and drug addictions. Offers free online and face-to- face meetings.
Phone: 440-951-5357
On-line meetings
Frequently asked questions
New England Chapter
Massachusetts meetings

Transformation CenterOffers training programs for jobs as leaders of peer support groups, peer workers in mental health programs, and also educational retreats for activists and Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) training. Also runs the Youth Commission and a restraint/seclusion reduction initiative and education programs.
98 Magazine St, Roxbury, MA
Phone: 617-442-4111
Toll free: 877-769-7693

Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP)Peer run program focusing on mental health and recovery. Key concepts of the program are hope, personal responsibility, education, self advocacy and support.
Contact Form 

Legal Resources:

Center for Public RepresentationNonprofit public law firm providing mental health law and disability law services. Representation for those residing in psychiatric hospitals, prisons and in the community.
Newton: 617-965-0776
Northampton: 413-586-6024

Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS)Provides free legal representation for consumers facing commitment hearings.
800-882-2095 (Boston)

Disability Law CenterFree legal representation to low income people in areas of 766 special education, access to community services, disability discirimination, disability benefits, rights & conditions in facilities and accessibility.

Mental Health Legal Advisors CommitteeState agency providing free legal representation for individuals, families and associations involved in the mental health system. Website has “Guide for Tenants with Mental Health Issues” available for download.
617-338-2345 or 800-342-9092

Providers / Therapists:

Mental Health Resources in Massachusetts

Psychology Today Therapists in Massachusetts  –  Massachusetts mental health providers, psychologists, mental health counselor, social worker locator


Massachusetts Clubhouse Directory

Other Information:

 Children’s Hospital Boston teamed up with the Boston Bar Association has a How-To Guide to Children’s Mental Health Services in Massachusetts (pdf). A first – of its- kind reference tool, the guide offers advice and insight into accessing services and advocating for children with mental health care needs. It’s intended for parents, mental health and primary care providers, emergency physicians, and staff from schools, public health and social service agencies. For copies, contact 617-778-1934 or

Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI)

MassHealth requires primary care providers to offer standardized behavioral health screenings at well child visits, mental health clinicians to use a standardized behavioral health assessment tool, and provides new or enhanced home and community-based behavioral health services. CBHI also includes a larger interagency effort to develop an integrated system of state-funded behavioral health services for children, youth and their families.

To learn more about the medically necessity requirements for each CBHI service, click the links below:

Children under 21 with MassHealth with Autism Spectrum Disorders who also have a co-existing psychiatric disorder may be eligible for a range of home-based services through the Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI). This may present an option for children who do not have access to a private insurance that complies with the ARICA mandate.

Recovery Learning Communities

In 2005, the Department of Mental Health embraced the President’s New Freedom Commission’s vision of transformation and developed a plan to establish local consumer governed and staffed centers that would build upon established partnerships with consumers. Called Recovery Learning Communities, these local hubs of information and support are now operating in all six DMH areas. It is a new type of model that builds on the momentum of the consumer movement and the partnership among consumer leaders and DMH that continues to grow.
Recovery Learning Communities,or RLC’s are peer-run networks of self-help, support, information and referral, advocacy and training activities.  Training in recovery concepts and tools, advocacy forums and social recreational events are all part of what goes on in a recovery learning community.   This is a significant culture change that shifts the focus on symptom management to a focus on promoting recovery, resilience and wellness.

Fact Sheet last updated on: 11/2/2021


Disclaimer: INDEX is pleased to provide you this information. Please note,  this information is not comprehensive, nor is it intended to take the place of professional advice. We encourage you to check other resources of such information. No endorsement by the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School,,  INDEX, or affiliates, should be inferred. We reserve the right to remove, to modify, or to add any information at any time, for any reason, and without notice.

Any information you may provide to update or further complete this information would be appreciated. Please contact us with comments. We appreciate your help.