“Please forgive me. My illness won today.” That was the message that Thomas Bloom Raskin left for his family before he committed suicide on Dec. 31, 2020. He was the son of a U.S. congressman, and his death focused attention on the struggle against depression that so many people face. Good, then, that Maryland has launched an innovative program that aims to connect people in need with mental health services and spare families from the heartbreak that can come with this often-debilitating illness.

Effective July 1, Maryland put in place a program that expands the state’s 211 crisis call center so that trained mental health counselors can periodically check in with people who need mental health support instead of waiting to call when they are in crisis. The program, enacted by the state legislature and supported by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), is named in memory of the 25-year-old son of Maryland Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D).

“We were so moved and inspired by the idea,” said Mr. Raskin. “We said, of course we would be honored to have you name it after Tommy, and that would be a beautiful and enduring legacy for him, to make Maryland a state where not only do you have somewhere to go if you’re in crisis, but where the state then continues to reach out to you.” Mr. Raskin and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, memorialized their much-loved son in a social media post that extolled his “perfect heart, a perfect soul, a riotously outrageous and relentless sense of humor, and a dazzling radiant mind.” They said his illness was “a kind of relentless torture in the brain for him.”

The program, in which any Maryland resident can sign up to receive periodic calls from 211 crisis counselors, is believed to be the first of its kind in the country. It came about because state Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery) was “shaken to the core” by Tommy Raskin’s death and saw a chance to do something to help others struggling with mental health problems. He teamed with state Sen. Malcolm L. Augustine (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Bonnie L. Cullison (D-Montgomery), and they consulted with mental health experts to devise the program. It is patterned after the state’s wellness check-ins for senior citizens. Even before the program became operational on Thursday, more than 200 Marylanders had signed up. Stresses from the covid-19 pandemic underscore the need for mental health support, but even as restrictions ease, the services will be needed and of value.

Marylanders can register for the program by texting “HealthCheck” to 211MD1 (211631) or by visiting https://211md.org/healthcheck/.