Public hearing on mental health issues

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) -- Mental health issues was the focus of a public hearing on Tuesday by a bipartisan task force put in place after the Tragedy at Sandy Hook. State lawmakers are taking a closer look at mental health care even though we know very little about what may have led the gunman to open fire.

Is the system in need of an over-haul? Is there enough money to do it? Can a list be made preventing the mentally ill from buying a firearm or can a mental health evaulation be done before buying a gun? That's what task force members are trying to figure out.

Adam Lanza is the reason we are talking about school security, gun control and the latest conversation at the state capital, mental health.

There was a call today to have Lanza's mental health history released, something that may not happen for sometime and there is the possibility it may never happen.

And some of those who have gone through the mental health system say now is the time for improvement.

"The ability to predict violence or risk is very, very, limited," said Patricia Rehmer.

Yet with a vast array of suggestions and opinions to the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety, there is something many believe must surface to evoke change.

"Release this shooters' mental health records so we can legislate, we can save lives," said Sheila Matthews, "Ablechild."

That will not happen anytime soon. But Commissioner Rehmer with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services says those with mental illness rarely inflict violence on others.

"It is important to note that really most of the individuals with serious mental illness are victims, they are not perpertrators," said Rehmer.

"I want an investigation between the link of psychiatric drugs and mass shootings," said Matthews.

The debate then concerns services provided, methodologies to treatment, and whether more money is needed to help more people. Yet much like the gun control debate, there is no "quick fix" to spark a speedy dramatic difference.

"One of the problems again is that if we don't change the stigma of discrimination that is experienced from these illnesses, we will have a very hard time increasing their access to services," said Rehmer.

Leroy Gardner, who is bi-polar and has a criminal history himself, testified before the Bipartisan task force, telling them the difficulty he's had finding treatment because he's "labeled." 

When Jason Razzino opened fire at Norwich Police officers, his friend Gardner is sad to say he wasn't surprised.

"He summoned police officers to his residence with that purpose of facilitating his demise. He shot a police officer four times and then turned the gun on himself only on the bleak outlook he felt getting the help that he saw individuals like me have trouble getting," said Gardner. "There is a direct correlation between ineffective mental health care and the over-crowding to the prison system. What happens is that prisons have become de-facto mental health facilities."

It is an immense responsiblity for legislators, finding a way to better an already taxed mental health system that meets the needs of everyone.

"You'll hear person after person talk about the divestments, the de-institutionalization, I think people are saying we need community based services," said Democrat Senator Beth Bye.

Services to help Leroy Gardner, who wonders why the treatment his friend once received still led to this end.

"The prospect of trying to get this help through this conveluted and complex mental health system, he chose the alternative," said Gardner.

Copyright 2014 WTNH TV. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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