Since Sandy Hook, Tracking Mental Health Changes Nationwide

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NEWTOWN, Conn., -- Nearly one year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the town has struggled to reclaim its identity as a quaint New England town. A sign hanging on a pole on the road leading to the elementary school.

Robert Stolarik / JJIE

NEWTOWN, Conn., -- Nearly one year after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the town has struggled to reclaim its identity as a quaint New England town. A sign hanging on a pole on the road leading to the elementary school.

>> Click Here to Read the Main Article: Sandy Hook One Year on, the Nation Struggles With the Stigma of Mental Illness

ARLINGTON, Va. --  The near financial collapse in 2008 had state capitols across the country tightening their fiscal belts. As part of that new fiscal reality, money for mental health programs suffered deep cuts. Funds for mental health budgets were slashed a combined $4 billion from 2008 to 2012.

However, in the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December experts have watched that trend sharply reverse.

new york logo 01The National Alliance on Mental Illness recently prepared a report survey in its State Legislation Report to track the mental health changes made in state houses across the country. Mental health budgets increased in 37 states, stayed even in eight states, and fell in six others, according to the report.

“An awful lot of legislators who have never been interested in mental health suddenly had a lot of interest in mental health in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook,” said Kate Mattias,  executive director at NAMI Connecticut. “We were able to talk to a number of legislators on both sides of the aisle about issues that were both long standing, and some that percolated to the top after of Sandy Hook.”

Of those states that increased their mental health funding, Texas made the largest jump in spending, increasing it $259 million over two years, the largest increase in its history. South Carolina, which made the deepest cuts in its history in 2008, turned that trend around by increasing its 2014 budget, according to the report.

“We did see after Newtown more states were willing to spend the money to support mental health, or at least bring the bills to the table and talk about them and that was something that was not seen before Newtown,” said Emily Cepla,  NAMI’s program manager, Child and Adolescent Action Center.

Medicaid remained the main source of funding for public mental health services, the report said. With implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, 25 states and the District of Columbia expanded Medicaid coverage; 22 states declined to expand the coverage, while three states are still debating the expansion.

Legislation for improving early identification and screening for youth -- one of the most pressing needs according to mental health experts and advocates -- were only passed in five states. Legislation to provide education for mental health training and services was passed in 10 states.

In New York, lawmakers in Albany passed the controversial Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, which expanded the duty of clinicians to warn about the potential danger of their clients.

Laura Usher is heartened by the changes in the state budgets, but she said she remains wary about how the renewed political interest in mental health will play out in the long run. Usher is the program manager of NAMI’s crisis intervention team, which works with school resources officers and others in law enforcement on how to handle people with mental illness and get them treatment instead of a set of handcuffs.

As the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting approaches, she has fielded questions about violence and the mentally ill -- a myth fueled by people’s misperceptions after a highly publicized shooting. In fact, she said, only a slender part of the mentally ill population engage in violence more than the general population, and those are people who are not getting treatment and substance abusers.

“In the wake of a tragedy, people try to blame it on mental illness. People assume people with mental illness are violent and how do we stop them,” she said. “The bigger question, which is with us every single day, is how do we help people get the treatment they need and the support that they need. I would love for that to have political momentum that is uncoupled from this violence issue because it’s much more important and it affects millions of people around this country.”

 

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