Mental Health America of California Response to Connecticut Shooting

Posted by Kassy Perry

by Rusty Selix, Executive Director

Besides the use of assault style weapons the other commonality of all of the recent mass shooters is that they all appeared to have mental illness and most were suicidal. That means that they were suffering from depression or a related serious mental illness and in most cases those mental illnesses were not being treated in a timely or effective manner as few people know they have mental illnesses and many who do know still don’t seek treatment. One of the simplest, most effective and cost saving ways we can address this problem is to ensure that at every point of entry to our health care system people are regularly evaluated for possible mental health problems with initial diagnosis and treatment available at the same time and place as the initial visit to a primary care office.

A simple survey of fewer than 10 questions which can be scored by computer will accurately identify those who are likely to have a mental health problem. Having a mental health professional on site at primary care offices to evaluate those individuals whose score indicates a need and provide initial consultation or guidance gets that care started in a timely and effective way that reaches a far greater number of people than any other approach.

Studies now demonstrate that this not only saves lives and improves mental health but it also saves money and improves physical health as those with untreated mental illnesses are at much greater risk of developing major chronic physical disorders such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

There is an emerging movement for health plans to integrate this early identification and treatment for mental health into their primary care practices and in some states such as Minnesota it has now become a universal practice.

In California it is happening in only a few places. Perhaps this latest tragedy will be the wakeup call needed for policy makers health plans and providers to take the steps necessary to make this a consistent and universal practice throughout the state.

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