Third in a three-part blog series on the impact of mental health policy changes in Colorado following the Aurora theater mass shootings four years ago.
On the morning of December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza took three guns from his Connecticut home, went to Sandy Hook Elementary in nearby Newtown, and fatally shot 20 elementary school students and six school employees. Earlier, he had killed his mother. Lanza, 20, committed suicide as first responders arrived at the school.
The killings came five months after the shootings on July 20, 2012 — four years ago today — inside the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora that left 12 dead and scores injured.
The Connecticut tragedy renewed the debate over gun control and mental health issues in Colorado and across the nation. Connecticut’s legislature passed several bills addressing mental health in the three years following the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary. The policy approach in Connecticut can provide guidance to Colorado and other states that are working to provide better access to mental health intervention services.
In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shootings, the Connecticut legislature passed Public Act 13-3. The bill extends the period of time during which persons who have been committed to a psychiatric hospital are not eligible to purchase a gun. Under the law, anyone who has committed themselves to psychiatric hospitals is prohibited from purchasing a gun for six months, and anyone who has been committed involuntarily is prohibited from gun purchases for five years. It requires courts to maintain records of those who have been involuntarily committed to psychiatric institutions.
The bill also increases access to mental health care services. It requires boards of education to offer Mental Health First Aid Training for teachers and administrators, provides behavioral health services in three cities that did not have those services, and formed a task force to analyze Connecticut’s mental health care delivery system.
Another 2013 mental health bill, Public Act 13-178, requires the state’s Department of Children and Families and the Office of Early Childhood to address children’s behavioral health, make recommendations to legislative committees, develop a public education campaign for children’s mental health, and provide training for mental health care providers. The legislation also created a second task force to study the effects of nutrition, genetics, and psychotropic drugs on children’s behavioral health.
Public Act 14-115 requires the Office of Health Care Advocates to develop a referral service to help residents of Connecticut access mental health care services. It also compelled the legislature’s committees on children and on human services, in cooperation with the insurance and public health committees, to recommend specific ways to improve mental health care access.
Public Act 15-5 offers grants to communities that provide local mental health care services. The grants favor care coordination and increasing access to existing programs. Public Act 15-27 formed an advisory board to guide the implementation of behavioral health care recommendations from the children and human services committees. A third mental health bill that year, Public Act 15-96, requires school-based health programs to screen students for mental health problems and to provide resources to address issues.
While Colorado’s post-Aurora bills focused on increasing funding and access to general mental health care services, Connecticut concentrated on its youth. Lawmakers hoped that by detecting and treating mental health issues early in life, tragedies like the Sandy Hook school shootings could be prevented.
Policy Analyst Tamara Keeney and health policy intern Zoe Wohlgenant conducted the research and wrote the blogs for this series.