After Newtown, few states restricted guns but 36 expanded mental-health funding

December 14, 2013

Frank Kulick adjusts a display of wooden crosses — and a Jewish Star of David — on his front lawn representing the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. (David Goldman/AP)

One year ago, 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., were gunned down by Adam Lanza. In the aftermath, there was hope among gun-control advocates that the event would spark pro-control reform. They’ve set their eyes on on a few states, but over the past year, more of them have loosened gun restrictions than tightened them. While gun control may face an uphill battle, though, a related policy area has seen change in the wake of the tragedy.

“We think that Sandy Hook opened up the eyes of governors and state legislators and policymakers around the country that mental health has been cut enough,” Andrew Sperling, the director of legislative advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told Post TV’s “In Play.”

Some 36 states increased their mental health-care budgets in 2013, according to NAMI. In Colorado, where James Holmes opened fire on a crowded movie theater a little over a year ago, the mental-health budget was increased by 13.5 percent.

State-level efforts have focused on five broad categories — the mental-health system, crisis and inpatient care, community mental health, criminal justice and mental health, and civil rights and stigma reduction — NAMI wrote in a fall report.

Many states also focused on catching mental-health issues among children. Nebraska created a pilot program to set up mental-health screenings for some secondary school students. Texas instituted training for school staff to identify mental-health problems; Utah will offer a seminar on the issue for parents. And Minnesota passed bills to improve mental-health services linked to schools.

“A tipping point on the heels of several recent mass shootings, the Newtown tragedy shaped the debate about the lack of access to mental health services and the barriers that many families and individuals face in light of the nation’s fragmented and grossly inadequate mental health system,” the organization wrote in its report.

Watch the “In Play” segment below to learn more about how some states have focused on mental-health improvements since Newtown.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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Niraj Chokshi · December 13, 2013