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Mental health law is special victory for Senate President Karen Spilka

Colin A. Young

BOSTON — Tuesday’s signing ceremony for the state’s new mental health law was more than the celebration of another legislative achievement for Senate President Karen Spilka. It was also affirmation that a childhood clouded by a parent’s untreated mental health issues had been worth it.

In what she says was a “moment of vulnerability and honesty” years ago, the Ashland Democrat decided to publicly share the story of her family’s struggle with mental illness. Her father suffered from significant mental health issues after his service in World War II, she said, but he wouldn’t seek help because of the stigma associated with it.

Senate President Karen Spilka celebrated Tuesday at the ceremonial signing of the state's new mental health law, a legislative priority of hers for decades and one that has its roots in her childhood.

When they couldn’t convince her father to seek help, Spilka said she and her mother sought counseling, and as a teenager she would have to sneak Haldol into her father’s food to treat his condition.

“Many nights, I had my younger brother sleep in the room with me because I feared he wouldn’t be alive in the morning if I let him sleep downstairs,” Spilka said in 2020.

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