State Mental Health Services for Young Adults ‘Inadequate': Report

UConn Health psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Connor, co-chair of the Task Force to Study the Provision of Behavioral Health Services for Young Adults, addresses the Connecticut legislature on Tuesday. (Carolyn Pennington/UConn Health Photo)

UConn Health psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Connor, co-chair of the Task Force to Study the Provision of Behavioral Health Services for Young Adults, addresses the Connecticut legislature on Tuesday. (Carolyn Pennington/UConn Health Photo)

The state’s mental health services are inadequate when it comes to identifying and providing services for young adults suffering from mental illness, according to a legislative task force report.

The Task Force to Study the Provision of Behavioral Health Services for Young Adults, co-chaired by UConn Health psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Connor, released its report Tuesday during a news conference at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

The task force made nearly 50 recommendations to improve Connecticut’s mental health system. The recommendations address three main concerns: access to behavioral health services, having enough health care providers to provide those services, and the rights under law for persons with behavioral health issues.

“While there exist areas of excellence in the Connecticut mental health system, overall, the state’s pediatric mental health service doesn’t meet the current need,” said Connor, chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at UConn Health.

One of the main issues the group focused on was the lack of equal access across payers, including commercial, self-employed, and public insurers. A particular concern is the gap that exists for those who are privately insured. Parents often find it difficult to connect all the necessary services to provide the care their children need.

Mental illness and gun violence

The group also addressed the issue of mental illness and gun violence. “While it appears true that among a small number of people with certain severe mental health disorders, there is a six to seven times greater likelihood of suicide, violence, or self-injury,” said Connor, “it is also true that the vast majority of individuals with mental illness do not in engage in violence in society. Studies show that if mental illness could be entirely eliminated overnight from the population, 90 to 97 percent of violent behaviors in society would remain. Reduction of gun violence in society requires a comprehensive approach.”

The 20-member task force was formed in August 2013 in response to the Sandy Hook shootings and included clinicians, treatment providers, and representatives from the insurance industry.

In Connecticut, about 10 percent of adolescents and young adults ages 16 to 25 have experienced at least one episode of a major depressive disorder in the past year. Late adolescence and young adulthood are a high-risk time for onset of major mental illness, including schizophrenia and bipolar illness.

Costs of action, costs of inaction

Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey said, “The report provides a blueprint for the legislature in the course of the next session and beyond to increase the availability and the access of mental health services in order to provide the kind of support we need in our state, while also reducing the stigma that often comes along with mental health services.”

While the final report includes 47 specific recommendations, overall they aim to accomplish the following goals:

  • Enhance identification of early-onset mental health disorders for Connecticut’s children, adolescents, and young adults.
  • Increase pediatric mental health care provider evaluation and treatment capacity (workforce capacity).
  • Address pediatric mental health care provider quality by enhancing training and expertise in evidence-based evaluation and intervention.
  • Decrease behavioral healthcare system fragmentation.
  • Increase behavioral healthcare ease-of-use for families in need.
  • Enhance mental health capacity in schools to address safety, student behavioral management issues, and early identification and treatment.
  • Continue discussion on involuntary outpatient commitment laws in Connecticut.

The task force members admit the package of recommendations is complex and will be costly to implement. But Connor says without major changes in the state’s behavioral health system, the costs will be even higher. Those include direct costs for police, courts, special education, and health care, as well as indirect costs, such as lost productivity.

The task force’s report and recommendations will be passed along to state lawmakers for action in the next legislative session.

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