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Jacquelyn Sommer

, National Council for Behavioral Health

BHECON Panelists Call for Expanding Young People’s Access to Behavioral Health Care in Connecticut

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Expanding patient access to behavioral health care and increased coordination among clinics, physicians, law enforcement and policymakers could dramatically improve the lives of individuals living with mental illness in Connecticut. That was the key takeaway at the BHECON forum that took place in Bridgeport, Connecticut, last week.

In partnership with the Connecticut Non-Profit Alliance, BHECON brought together stakeholders from health, social service and law enforcement sectors to discuss the challenges of expanding access to behavioral health, and explore policy solutions to improve services. Participants learned more about the current state of behavioral health systems in Connecticut and shared their opinions on the best strategies for further reform.

Panelists discussed the merits of community-based care in helping children and youth living with mental illness.  Sarah Eagan, who is a childhood advocate, stressed the state is required to provide specialized services for children living with mental illness or learning disorders, including behavioral/physical health screening and a tailored education program.  Yet, all too often, these services fall short.  Abby Anderson, Executive Director of the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance, commented that the juvenile justice system is the largest provider of behavioral health care to children and adolescents in the state—demonstrating that there is a lack of easily accessible community-based care for most young people and that policy reforms are needed.

Chuck Ingoglia with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing addressed federal policy changes that could improve patients’ access to community-based care. He noted that in every state, individuals of all ages have trouble accessing the care that they need, positioning the criminal justice system as the de facto system of behavioral care in many communities. “Policy changes such as the Excellence in Mental Health Act could change how behavioral health services are delivered in communities.  By expanding community providers’ capacity to care for more people in need, the Excellence Act will bolster our community treatment system and begin the process of reducing the role of the criminal justice system in caring for people with mental illness.”

BHECON forums raise policymakers’ awareness of the challenges facing our behavioral health system by generating data-driven discussions on needed policy reforms. Forums will continue throughout the year in five states, with the next forum scheduled for October 6th, in Normal, Illinois. For more information about BHECON, visit our website at www.bhecon.org.