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Families of Newtown School Shooting Victims Praise New Mental Health Law

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Four years after a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., families of the victims are praising a new federal law that is designed to improve access to mental health care.

The Mental Health Reform Act—included in the 21st Century Cures Act that President Barack Obama signed Tuesday—includes provisions that target the mental health of children, an issue of special concern to many Newtown families.

According to a fact sheet distributed by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who sponsored the bill alongside Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), those provisions include:

  • A grant program to support intensive early intervention for infants and young children who are at risk of developing or are showing signs of mental illness.
  • A grant program to support pediatrician consultation with mental health teams.
  • A measure that "ensures that children covered by Medicaid have access to the full range of early and periodic screening, diagnostic, and treatment services."

The bill also encourages states to "break down barriers" between physical and mental health care, includes measures designed to ensure that mental health services are covered adequately by private insurers, and provides funding for suicide prevention and intervention strategies.

Mental health has been a special focus for the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization formed by some Newtown victims' families that also advocates for stronger gun laws.

That's in part because a report by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate found that gunman Adam Lanza lived a life of repeated missed opportunities—by schools, relatives and mental health professionals—to intervene in a downward spiral of isolation, emotional instability, and mental illness. As I wrote at the time:

"Lanza, referred to as "AL" in the report, received minimal mental health observations at school. His parents "may not have understood the depth or implications of his disabilities," which, at various stages in his life, included obsessive-compulsive tendancies, anxiety, anorexia, a fascination with violence, and autism spectrum disorder, the report says."

Among those who praised the Mental Health Reform Act was Sandy Hook Promise Director Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan died in the Sandy Hook shootings.

Mark Barden, who helped co-found the organization after his son Daniel died in the shootings, praised the bill when it passed the Senate last week.

Photo: White roses with the faces of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are attached to a telephone pole in January 2013, on the one-month anniversary of the shooting that left 26 dead in Newtown, Conn. --Jessica Hill/AP-File

Related reading on the Newtown shootings, mental health, and schools:

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