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Mental Illness Treatment Laws: Does Connecticut Lag Behind?

Sandy Hook
The nation weeps

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

Dear Committee:

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?

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The Tragic Newtown Shooting: Attention Must Be Paid

The horrors of 9/11 got us into wars overseas, and the memories continued to be used to justify our involvement there. Will the tragedy in Newtown get us into a war against easy access to assault weapons, underfunded mental health services,  stalled research, and lack of support?

Newtown Grief
Never Forget. Act to Prevent.

Details continue to unfold about what might have contributed to the horrific incidents Friday in my neighboring town of Newtown, CT.

It is beyond comprehension, yet we struggle to find some threads that might prevent a repeat of it.

Many will, I hope and pray, start to listen and make changes to some of the issues involved: smarter gun control, earlier detection of mental health problems, and more access to (and insistence upon) treatment for those problems.

As we struggle to “search for solutions” (this week’s topic on Good Morning America), I hope we also get to find out what Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy, had struggled with.

  • Did she try to get help for her son, only to be denied because he was “legally an adult, and there’s nothing we can do now”?
  • Was she left with no choice but to home-school her son after he dropped out of high school?
  • Was she lost in a desperate attempt to hang on to some sort of bonding with a son she loved, but was losing to mental illness? (in her case, by teaching him about guns, taking to shooting ranges)
  • Did she even know how to navigate the confusing world of mental health services, only to find no road map, no support, no funding?
  • Did the stigma and blame of having a son with mental health problems keep them isolated and feeling there was no community left for them?

All of these things were true for us, at times. We had to, have to, fight every step of the way to get help, support, understanding. We are lucky. Ben’s nature is sweet and peace-loving. Even his “grand delusions” when in psychosis were about writing the perfect poem that will create world peace. Also, we found help and community in NAMI, and Ben got support from an ICCD clubhouse, a residential facility, outpatient treatment, and newer medications that had not existed decades ago.

But the truth of the matter is that too many familes (like, I suspect, the Lanzas) simply give up before they can find help and support. They are left to “fix it themselves.” Too many families are wiped out financially (as we were), emotionally (as we often were) and socially (as we sometimes were) before they find new paths to recovery. To help these families, I wrote our book, “Ben Behind His Voices”, and advocate for the kind of help that might have prevented Adam Lanza from committing the most horrific crime the world could ever imagine.

I don’t “know for sure” (Oprah phrase) that this tragedy could have been prevented. But, as the mother of someone who has a mental illness and has managed to find hope, I can’t help but wonder – no, suspect – that the answer is yes. This did not have to happen.

We must all fight for understanding, research, funding of services, turning stigma into treatment, and supporting the families who are, too often, ill-prepared to fight mental illness alone.

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