Five years after 20 children and six teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, mental health advocates are optimistic but reforms in last year’s 21st Century Cures Act remain unfunded.
The massacre at Newtown, Ct.’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, which happened five years ago Thursday, prompted calls for tighter controls on guns and improved mental health treatment. Now, mental health care providers are waiting for promised boosts in funding, and many families are still battling insurance companies to cover their children’s services, the Associated Press reports. While advocates say the quality of mental health care varies widely by state, they also see a potential for improvement in their push for more early intervention programs and changing public attitudes about mental illness. “There’s a lot of reason to feel optimistic,” said Ron Honberg of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “But there are a lot of challenges too, particularly around financing these services.”
The 21st Century Cures Act, signed by President Obama last December, was inspired in part by Newtown and included the first major mental health reform package in nearly a decade. Grants for intensive early intervention for infants and young children showing signs of mental illness still await funding. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat whose district includes Newtown, said that if such laws are not funded, “it’s a nice piece of paper … hanging on somebody’s wall, but it’s not going to help save lives.” Mental health experts say most people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent crimes, and no motive has ever been determined for the massacre in which Adam Lanza fatally shot his mother and then gunned down 20 children and six educators. A report by the Connecticut Child Advocate noted Lanza’s mother rejected recommendations that her son get treatment for anxiety and other conditions. It said his “severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems,” when combined with a preoccupation with violence and access to deadly weapons, “proved a recipe for mass murder.”