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“Family-Centered” Mental Health: Preventing Future School Violence

December 10, 2013

HARTFORD, Conn. - In the aftermath of the deaths of 27 pupils and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a year ago, state lawmakers have been working on measures to prevent future violence. Stonington Representative Diana Urban co-sponsored a children's mental health bill that she said should help break down barriers and get all the various agencies involved working together, and working better with families, to catch mental health issues at an early stage.

"What we found is, on these very, very young children, that the families would realize that there was a budding problem, and it was enormously difficult for them to get anyone to actually listen to them," she said.

Critics of the measure complained that it lacks needed funding, but Urban said it does require that mental health agencies, schools and emergency mobile psychiatric services all coordinate their efforts.

Meriden Senator Dante Bartolomeo said a major focus is seeing to it that all those who come in contact with children have a wide exposure to education on mental health issues.

"Teachers and pediatricians working together with a focus on the family and the child; that's a way in which we hope to prevent that type of an 'Adam Lanza situation' in the future." Lanza was the gunman who died with his victims at Sandy Hook.

Diana Urban noted that a Mental Health Task Force is to meet Wednesday to look at approaches to dealing with mental illness, beyond simply putting kids with behavior problems on medication.

"So, we're looking at alternative treatments: we're looking at, is there a genetic component to this, is there a nutritional component? You know, some of those most simple things get ignored," she said.

Urban said families often fear they or their children will be stigmatized if they seek help for mental health issues. She noted that school-based health centers may be one solution, because families and schoolchildren might feel more comfortable reaching out in their own school.

The measure is PA-13-178. The Mental Health Task Force meets Wed., Dec. 11, at the Legislative Office Building, Hartford.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - CT