Weeks after the tragedy in Newtown, though facts are still to be confirmed about Adam Lanza’s history, we struggle to understand how it might have been prevented – or, at least, how to help prevent it from happening again.
First, some facts: Court-ordered hospitalization for mental illness is authorized in every state, but each state’s criteria for involuntary treatment is different. Connecticut’s report card? Not so great.
“Connecticut’s civil commitment laws are among the most restrictive in the nation when it comes to getting help for a loved one in psychiatric crisis,” said Kristina Ragosta, senior legislative and policy counsel for the Treatment Advocacy Center, who serves as the organization’s expert on Connecticut. Ragosta said the law is restrictive in three ways that differentiate it from states with stronger laws.
1. An individual needs to be dangerous before intervention is possible. The standard requires that the individual be a danger to self or others or a danger due to grave disability before commitment is possible.
2. The law provides no option for qualifying individuals to receive court-ordered treatment in the community. This makes Connecticut one of only six states that does not provide the option of assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) as a condition of living in the community.
3. The state’s standard does not take into consideration an individual’s past psychiatric history, such as repeated hospitalizations, and/or symptoms of psychiatric deterioration that could culminate in violence or other consequences of non-treatment.”
Here is my letter to the state’s bipartisan task force
I am the mother of a beautiful son who suffers from schizophrenia. “Ben” is now 30 years old, and with treatment is both a student (Dean’s List) and taxpayer (employed in season at a Connecticut tourist attraction, where he interacts beautifully and appropriately with the public).
Without treatment, or when services are cut, he is a patient instead- wandering aimlessly through the halls of a psychiatric hospital until he agrees to go back on his meds. This has happened three times since Ben began his recovery phase – and each time we face the fact that he may never return to us, as there is no mandated treatment, no assisted outpatient treatment, and we his family are left holding the bag and guessing how to help him. Continue reading Mental Illness Treatment Laws: Does Connecticut Lag Behind?