R-J Editorial: CTDCF plan would boost mental health services

R-J Editorial: CTDCF plan would boost mental health services

To prevent another tragedy akin to Newtown, it is crucial to strengthen mental health services. A new plan by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families would accomplish just that.

Consider this: Perpetrators of public shootings are commonly remembered by associates — like teachers or classmates — as having been mentally unwell for a period preceding outbursts. Also typical is for medical records to show that these attackers never received sufficient treatment for psychological disorders.

If so many people can recall a shooter as having been troubled, and yet that person did not receive necessary help, why did nobody step in and act? The reason, in part, is due to an archaic confidentiality barrier between school teachers and doctors. If reformed, education and medical professionals could better share information in a cooperative effort to recommend aid for the mentally ill.

Such an amendment is within a plan put forth by the DCF, in response to 20-year-old Adam Lanza’s 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School assault. Besides establishing a better channel of information between teachers and doctors, other worthwhile DCF suggestions included greater means of early detection and empowering families.

The latter would involve periodic standardized screenings of children for mental health problems. A biannual student survey in Meriden accomplishes similar goals as the DCF proposal, and has proven a successful method to identify kids at risk. All schools should conduct these screenings and, if red flags emerge, share results with trusted medical professionals.

DCF members also want to increase training for teachers and doctors to identify psychological issues in youths. It is doubly beneficial to recognize mentally unwell individuals early and then direct them toward appropriate care. This allows kids of all ages to receive potentially life-altering help, while possibly preventing future violent outbursts which could have occurred had illnesses persisted untreated.

While all of these changes seem beneficial, they will accomplish nothing without the willingness of families to seek help for their children. Unjust social stigmas regarding mental health can keep parents or guardians from directing kids toward appropriate psychological care. According to reports, Lanza’s mother was hesitant to have him medically treated, and went through great lengths to comply with his obsessive demands at home.

The DCF plan would reallocate existing money for mental health services in a “more flexible way” so that families have greater choices for their kids. “The whole point of this is to make it easier for families to get care for their children before situations erupt, before they become emergencies,” stated DCF Commissioner Joette Katz (AP, 9-6). With greater control over the process, parents and guardians may be more inclined to pursue aid their children need.

The DCF presented its plan to legislators earlier this month, and garnered support from Gov. Dannel Malloy. As presently constructed, the proposal is well reasoned, fosters better communication, and assists teachers, doctors and families. While the exact price tag is not yet clear, this is an improvement for public health and safety well worth future investment. We urge leaders from our area to support this plan, which is expected to be fully implemented within five years — the sooner, the better, for the sake of public safety and improving the outlook for those at risk.


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