Connecticut is the best state in the country in terms of mental health wellness, according to a report released this month by the national mental health advocacy group Mental Health America.
Based on national survey data and measurements ranging from insurance coverage to accessibility of treatment, the annual report ranked the state number one overall and in several other individual categories, such as the prevalence of mental illness. In yet other categories, like access to care, the state ranked in the top five of all states. In a press release on Feb. 14, Gov. Dannel Malloy applauded the results and called attention to the role played by local Connecticut organizations.
“This is exactly why we’ve dedicated so many of our efforts to ensuring access of care for those who need it the most,” Malloy said in the press release. “Our work on this front will not be finished until all of those in need are receiving the treatment needed to live active, healthy lives. We’ve formed strong partnerships with many groups and organizations in our state to ensure adequate quality of care, and I want to thank all of them for their efforts, which are being recognized throughout the country.”
The annual report was first published in 2014 in order to test the effects of the Affordable Care Act on mental health treatment and in order to provide data to state-level affiliates for further advocacy, said Theresa Nguyen, vice president of policy and programs at MHA. She added that the reports ultimately revealed a rise in access to insurance and an accompanying rise in access to mental health treatment. It also highlighted that, among young people, rates of depression are skyrocketing, she said, and that while access has expanded, overall conditions are still insufficient for adequately caring for the country’s mentally ill, especially its youth.
A state’s high ranking indicates lower prevalence of mental illness and higher rates of access to care, according to the report. States that ranked lower, like Arizona and Nevada, showed higher incidence of mental illness and worse access to treatment. The Northeast as a region ranked highly, as Massachusetts, Vermont and New York came in at second, third and 12th, respectively.
Nguyen said Connecticut’s ranking shows the state’s performance in comparison with others, but noted that it does not necessarily mean Connecticut is doing “well.”
“Relative to other states, Connecticut is doing better,” Nguyen said. “I don’t know that that means Connecticut is necessarily doing well, because if you look at, for example, how many adults with a mental health problem receive treatment, just because a state ranks well doesn’t actually mean that it’s actually doing well.”
Connecticut ranked eighth in the number of adults with mental illness who do not receive treatment. While that means the state performs better than most other states in treating mentally ill citizens, she said, it may just be a difference between poor and mediocre treatment.
Luis Perez, president and CEO of Mental Health Connecticut — an independent organization affiliated with MHA — said that although he was pleased with the state’s place in the rankings, it is consistent with past reports.
“We were not surprised,” he said. “Connecticut, in this survey and others, always has ranked in the top three or top five states in terms of mental health. From time to time Massachusetts has edged forward from us, but I am not surprised.”
He echoed Nguyen’s point on the survey’s relative results, saying that while Connecticut provides high quality care, it still lacks in accessibility to that treatment.
Nonetheless, according to Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the state has shown improvement in that field, moving from number eight in accessibility last year to number four this year. DMHAS Public Information Officer Diana Lejardi said the department was happy with the results.
Kate Mattias, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Connecticut, complimented the state’s public care system and especially commended DMHAS. But she also stressed that many lower-ranking states simply do not have the resources to provide the same caliber of care. She, like Nguyen, pointed to the state budget as a battleground for better care. The state has been undergoing fiscal challenges, she said, and she fears that cuts to programs have proven successful.
Nguyen said there remains much work to be done to improve services for the mentally ill, and she hoped the high ranking would not lead to complacency.
“The unfortunate part of a ranking system is that maybe a state that is ranked well feels like it can give itself credit for doing better than other states, but that credit only extends so far,” she said. “Because if you actually look at the numbers, there’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Asked how a state like Connecticut might take steps to improve, Nguyen said a state should look to its mental health budget. She said states with more robust public services for treating the mentally ill do a better job of preventing patients from falling through the cracks.
In light of Congress’ recent moves to repeal the ACA, Nguyen said that while she acknowledges the law could be improved, she sees the risks of losing the policy, which MHA reports have showed led to improved insurance coverage and mental health care.
“We’re absolutely concerned,” she said. “I know that there is a desire to find those things that we can improve upon around the ACA. I think that’s true that we can improve things. But we as an organization are not looking for any funds to get cut. We do not support having less access to mental health care or having policies that make it more difficult to get the support and treatment that they need.”