Improving Mental Health Care

March 20, 2013

Over the past several months, I have had the honor of serving as a member of the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety. This group was formed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy in an attempt to review current state laws and consider changes to prevent similar events in the future. When it was first formed, the task force separated into three working groups to more completely understand these complex issues.

As a member of the Mental Health Working Group, I have taken part in several different committee meetings and public hearings at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford and Newtown High School. During these events, legislators heard directly from Newtown families, members of the public, mental health experts, industry representatives and many others who shared their views with the working group. These different perspectives were consolidated into a report that was shared with legislative leadership for further consideration.

In our final meeting, the working group announced four points of bipartisan agreement. The first point was to promote mental health first aid. This would provide teachers, school nurses, school counselors and other community members with training to help them understand, identify and respond to mental health illness and psychiatric emergencies.

The second point was the creation of a mental health task force. The task force would conduct a more comprehensive study of our state’s mental health system and make recommendations to improve the system for those who are between 16 and 25 years of age.

The proposed task force would focus on seven different issues, including improving early intervention and treatment, closing gaps in private insurance coverage, improving case management and follow up, addressing the shortage of psychiatric professionals and specialized services, alternative service delivery and payment models, reviewing models of mental health delivery for young adults and the creation of a centralized information resource center for individuals and families regarding mental health issues.

The third point is to promote programs that would provide case coordination and management for individuals with mental illness. These programs would improve the connection between these individuals and courts, providers, community agencies and family members. Examples would include Melissa’s Project, Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams and Peer Bridger programs.

The fourth point was to implement a program similar to the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP) that would train pediatricians to intervene with children who have mental health conditions and prescribe and manage medication when appropriate.

There were also several items that were discussed but not included in the final report because they did not achieve bipartisan consensus in both chambers of the Legislature. Some of these ideas are worth additional attention and the legislature will likely discuss them in the future. For example, two of the ideas that I put forward included the creation of a task force that would study the effects of violent video games on our children and expanding the number of School-Based Health Centers in our state.

While these mental health proposals are only part of the solution, legislators must take into account many different complex issues, including school safety and measures to prevent gun violence. In the coming weeks and months, legislators will be taking additional steps to craft legislation and vote on a proposal. If you would like to read more about each of the working group proposals, please visit the “A Safer Connecticut” website at