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Federal Gun Bill Will Bring More Money for Mental Health Services to CT

June 24, 2022

The bill passed by the U.S. Senate Thursday night and the House Friday – expected to be signed by President Biden – will bring millions of dollars to the state to enhance mental health services. This comes on the heels of Connecticut passing a series of laws that will do the same, said Jim O’Dea, senior vice president, Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network. “Connecticut had already made a demonstrable investment in behavioral health, in both new initiatives and supporting existing initiatives,” he said. “The state did a lot that is really significant. [The federal bill] is additive to that.” Called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and spearheaded by Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, the federal bill covers gun safety, mental health and school safety. It will provide resources to expand community mental health services for children and families, fund school-based mental health and supportive services, promote telehealth mental health services to expand access and invest in community crisis intervention programs. Combined with the state laws approved in the last session of the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ned Lamont, “it will help us stabilize access and ensure access to mental health services,” O’Dea said. “But the truth is, Connecticut has been a leader in common sense gun reform and in access to behavioral health care.” Moving forward, O’Dea said a priority across Hartford HealthCare will be taking advantage of the parts of the legislation that focus on retaining and expanding the workforce. “We have done tremendous work already with retention and recruitment,” he said. “Because without the workforce, access to services remains an issue. The workforce is critical to almost everything else, and every day we are focused on multiple initiatives to retain our excellent staff and grow our resources.” While bolstering resources for the mentally ill is both important and welcome, O’Dea acknowledged that the connection often made between mental health and mass shootings “is a false connection. Someone living with severe mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator,” he said. “That is a fact. That said, background checks, limiting access to firearms, red flag laws, are all connected to what we call ‘lethal means restriction.’ This concept is critical to the safety of our patients.” About 25,000 Americans die by gun suicide each year, and six out of every 10 gun deaths are suicide. Having access to a firearm can triple someone’s risk of death by suicide. “Often, suicide is an impulsive act that occurs in the midst of a period of intense emotional instability,” O’Dea explained. “If we can find a way to protect them during this time, by making sure firearms are stored safely, ammunition is stored separately, these types of common-sense actions, that goes a long way in reducing the risk of suicide.”