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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Conn. Debates Mandatory Outpatient Treatment For Mentally Ill

(e-MagineArt.com/Flickr)

(e-MagineArt.com/Flickr)

A special task force in Connecticut is holding a public hearing today on mental health issues and guns.

It is not known if Newtown shooter Adam Lanza had any diagnosed mental illness, but a family friend has said Lanza’s mother was in the process of having her son committed to a psychiatric hospital just before he went on his shooting spree.

Connecticut lawmakers are now debating whether to join most other states in passing what’s called “outpatient commitment,” which would mandate court-ordered treatment for people with serious mental illness who are not in the hospital.

It’s outraged some mental health advocates, who say people with mental illness should make their own decisions. Here’s an excerpt from an opinion piece in the Hartford Courant by Janet Van Tassel, head of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project:

“Because a forced medication or treatment law would restrict the fundamental civil rights of people with mental illness, there are questions about whether it would violate Connecticut’s constitutional protections for these individuals. Certainly, it would require an enforcement system and court proceedings comparable to those used in New York, which cost more than $32 million per year. Consequently, it would be very costly, and use money that would be better spent on community services.”

The measure is being applauded by others who say they desperately need the help for their loved ones who don’t know they’re seriously ill. The Treatment Advocacy Center argues on its website in favor of outpatient commitment, also called assisted outpatient treatment (AOT):

“Studies and data from states using AOT prove that it is effective in reducing the incidence and duration of hospitalization, homelessness, arrests and incarcerations, victimization, and violent episodes. AOT also increases treatment compliance and promotes long-term voluntary compliance, while reducing caregiver stress. The six states that do not have AOT are Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Nevada, and Tennessee.”

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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