Christine Stuart photo
Dr. Daniel Connor and Dr. Sheryl Ryan (Christine Stuart photo)

There are still more questions than answers for the task force charged with making recommendations about behavioral and mental health services for young adults.

The 20-member task force that was created as part of the gun legislation passed after the Sandy Hook school shooting is charged with looking at the delivery of, and access to, mental health services.

Tuesday’s meeting opened with a discussion of access issues for 15- to 25-year-olds and whether those access issues can be addressed before the stigma issue. It turned into a discussion about when and where these kids should be screened. Should it be in school?

“What happens when they graduate from high school?” Dr. Anton Alberte asked.

Ted Pappas, another member of the task force, suggested that peer-to-peer communications works best for young adults, who are more likely to share their feelings with a friend than with an adult.

Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Commissioner Patricia Rehmer agreed that peer communications are ideal for this population. She said it’s a hard age group to engage and she has heard that schools often don’t like to get involved with mental health issues because once they get involved they have to do something.

Jill Hall, another member of the task force, said mental health has to be discussed as part of the health curriculum at a very young age.

But questions about whether prevention and intervention fall under the purview of schools went unanswered. The task force learned Tuesday that there’s another task force investigating school-based health clinics and mental health, and yet another task force dealing with the coordination of services offered by the Department of Children and Families.

Dr. Daniel Connor, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut who co-chairs the behavioral health task force for young adults, said the group has been given 13 charges by the legislature and those have been divided into two areas: service delivery and access.

He said the goal is to submit a set of recommendations to the legislature in January 2014, but getting it right is more important than submitting the report on time.

“Thirteen charges is too much,” Connor said after Tuesday’s meeting. 

He said he doesn’t think there’s much doubt that there are too few adolescent psychiatrists or mental health providers for 15- to 25-year-olds. He suggested that there should be some sort of student-loan forgiveness for students looking to specialize in the field of psychiatry.

But even if there are too few psychiatrists, aren’t there enough resources out there for the public to access?

“We still have 80 percent of the population that may not know where to go to ask the question, answer the question, get services,” Cara Lynn Westcott, a task force member, said Tuesday. “At the risk of repeating myself for the third time . . . I do believe strongly that it comes back to stigma, and that until health is mental health or until mental health is health we’re going to continue this conversation related to: Do we have enough practitioners? Do we have the right services?”

Piecing together all the programs and resources is another part of the group’s daunting task.

What barriers and resources would lower barriers to care for this population? That’s another one of the many questions the task force hopes to answer before it’s done.

Tuesday was the third meeting held by the group and it’s only one piece of the legislation passed in April in response to the school shooting by a lone gunman.

The Insurance Department also is accepting public comments on mental health parity compliance.

The public comment period runs through Oct. 15 and there’s a special web site set up to accept those comments, which also can be delivered via mail.

The comments are being compiled as part of a report the Insurance Department will submit to the legislative committees of cognizance in January.

The bill passed in April requires mental health and substance abuse services to be considered “urgent care” by health insurance carriers, and it shortened the review time for service requests from 72 hours to 24 hours.

The legislation also required:
—insurance companies to inform consumers that they have the right to appeal a denial of care;
—the Insurance Department to evaluate and report on compliance with mental health parity laws, and;
—the health professional reviewing an insurance claim to have similar qualifications to the medical professional prescribing it.

The bill also expanded some services in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, added case management for individuals involved in the Probate Court system, and established a program that provides support to pediatricians to help them intervene with children who have mental health conditions.