Malloy: State has chance to combat mental illness stigma

The governor was trying to end the press conference, having said he’d take “one last question” several questions ago. But then the topic of mental illness came up and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he was glad for the chance to make a final point.

“This is a very important point,” he said. “Having mental health services and getting to the point where a stigma that might otherwise attach to accessing those services dissipates is a very important process for our country to engage in.”

“All too often, we think of treatment for mental illnesses very differently than we think about a broken arm or a broken leg, or, for that matter, a chronic illness.”

Malloy was taking questions after announcing the creation of a commission to craft a response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The panel is expected to address school safety, gun violence and mental health issues.

Malloy has not offered specific ideas about mental health changes he’d like to see. But he’s spoken repeatedly about the need to eliminate stigma.

The response to the Newtown shooting is “an opportunity for Connecticut to lead the way,” Malloy said, in eliminating the stigma that prevents some people from seeking help.

“That could be some good that comes out of this horrific incident,” he said Thursday.

The governor is a policy wonk, well-versed in arcane details of most issues. But on this issue he also brings personal experience. One of his sons has struggled with mental illness, something that became public after his 2009 arrest on drug and robbery charges.

On Thursday, as he has in the past, Malloy said that Connecticut’s Medicaid program gives access to mental health services to close to 84,000 poor adults who wouldn’t be covered in most other states.

When a reporter noted that Adam Lanza, the Newtown gunman, did not come from a poor family, Malloy acknowledged the point. But he said coming from a well-to-do background doesn’t assure access to mental health services.

“Just because someone has access financially doesn’t mean that they could move beyond the stigma,” Malloy said. “And by the way, I’m not prejudging that either in this particular case. But I know that there are people who cannot move beyond the stigma and therefore we have to address it.”

A report released Wednesday by the Office of the Healthcare Advocate underscored the difficulty of accessing services even for people with means. The report said that often, people covered by Medicaid or other public programs are better able to get coverage for mental health and substance abuse services than those with private insurance.