Malloy increases mental health funds

Governor Dannel Malloy plans to propose a $4.25 million increase to the state’s mental health funding to the legislature next week.

The proposal, which Malloy will formally present at the year’s first legislative session on Feb. 5, will complement increases in mental health funding after the Sandy Hook shooting. The proposed funding would go toward supportive housing for “underserved populations,” like New Haven’s youth and homeless residents. The proposal also allocates $250,000 to fund a mental health anti-stigma campaign and expand a police program that trains officers in handling mental illness, according to Samaia Hernandez, a spokesperson for the governor.

“Right now, Connecticut does a very good job trying to create a responsive mental health system with the funds we have,” said Louise Pyers, founder of the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement. “But more funds would allow the state to serve a lot of people who are slipping through the cracks.”

The proposal adds 110 rental assistance vouchers to an existing 790 housing slots, allowing more people with mental illness to benefit from affordable supportive housing, said Mary Mason, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

The “underserved” populations mentioned in the proposal will likely emphasize the 16-25 age group, since that is the age when many serious illnesses first manifest themselves, said health care policy consultant and advocate Sheila Amdur.

The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services will also be working with law enforcement agencies to expand the Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) program, a 40-hour series of classes available on a volunteer-basis for all police departments in the state.

Approximately 10 percent of calls to police departments across the state involve a mental health crisis, according to Pyers, who runs the CIT course in Connecticut.

The program, which teaches de-escalation techniques for responding to situations involving mental illness, is expense-free for police departments. The city pays departments up to $1,500 per trained officer to help cover overtime costs, and police stations are recommended to have at least a quarter of the patrol force trained so at least one CIT-trained officer can be available on any shift, Pyers said.

“Having gone through the program myself, I know it’s excellent,” said Sergeant Rose Turney, the CIT liaison for the New Haven Police Department. “You learn how to talk to people with mental illnesses. This program teaches officers that there’s a lot of patience involved, and it gives them techniques to calm down a situation.”

Around 17,000 officers in the state have participated in CIT since its creation in 2003, including 17 current Yale Police Department officers, said YPD Assistant Chief Steven Woznyk.

The New Haven Police Department currently has 70 officers trained in the program, Turney said. She added that she hopes the new funding will increase the number of available spots in the CIT program, estimating that each of New Haven’s 10 police districts gets upwards of five or six mental illness-related calls within each 8-hour shift.

“It’s not only beneficial to people in the community, but also to law enforcement,” Pyers said, citing a Memphis study that showed officer injuries went down 85 percent after implementation of CIT.

Some health care advocates, however, worry that the proposal will not solve deeper funding gaps in the Connecticut mental health system.

Morna Murray, president of Connecticut Community Providers Association, an advocacy group that represents local mental health providers, said the 110 rental assistance vouchers would not be nearly enough.

“I think it’s encouraging that the governor is focusing on improving the mental health care system in Connecticut,” she said. “But we need more. We need community providers fully funded so they can treat everyone who needs help.”

Since 2008, $4.5 billion has been cut from mental health care funding nationwide. Connecticut residents are not immune to the cuts, finding it hard to get treatment across the state, Amdur said.

Murray said despite her concerns, she is excited for more conversation about mental health issues, particularly through the proposed multi-media anti-stigma campaign.

“We need to treat mental health like we treat any other kind of health,” she said. “Mental illness is not a sentence. It’s an illness, and people can recover. And we need to focus on that.”

Last fiscal year, the appropriation for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services was $693 million.

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