At a Mental Health Services Working Group Public Hearing Tuesday, state legislators heard testimony on how to address gun violence through the mental health system. Expanding services for adolescents both in and out of schools was a key focus during the hearing. Commissioners from several state agencies spoke on a wide range of mental health topics including access, cost, and stigmatization.
Rep. DebraLee Hovey, who represents Newtown and Monroe, said she wants to explore the “idea that schools are first line of defense on a lot of behavior and mental health issues.” She voiced concerns that once a school has exhausted resources in addressing a students’ mental health and behavioral issues, the current system lacks referral services outside of the school.
Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Pat Rehmer said cost interferes with access to services, especially for those on private insurance plans. Expensive co-pays can make receiving mental health treatment prohibitively expensive for some, she said. Multiple commissioners who testified explained that private insurance plans do not offer sufficient coverage for mental health services, leaving the burden on the state to provide for individuals in need of care.
Many said fear of stigma can deter people from seeking services. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we need to deal with that stigma,” said Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz.
“Most of the people who need mental health services are victims, not perpetrators,” said Rehmer. She mentioned that Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook, has not been publicly diagnosed with any mental illness. “People make assumptions,” Rehmer said.
Hovey mentioned that as well, but said it is, “never too soon to start analyzing what our system is” in regards to mental health services.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner Joette Katz said “much improvement” remains in the area of childrens’ mental health services.