Sandy Hook shooting highlights deficient access to psychiatry in the U.S., expert says

DENVER - A mental health expert says the shooting in a Connecticut elementary school highlights the deficient access to child and adolescent psychiatry in the United States.

According to ABC, the shooter in Connecticut was 20-year-old Adam Lanza. State Police have not officially confirmed that identification, but law enforcement sources have said he might have suffered from a personality disorder.

Dr. Jennifer Hagman, of Children's Hospital Colorado, said it's not enough to offer care to troubled individuals. The optimal treatment and interventions need to be offered to those who need it, she said.

Treatment, she said, is something that must be individualized because the optimal care varies in each community.

"It's a critically underserved area - access to child and adolescent psychiatry," said Dr. Hagman. "Mental health benefits are often not covered at the level of medical benefits. We have made it very difficult for individuals with mental health problems."

James Holmes, who is accused of opening fire in an Aurora movie theater in July, was a mental health patient. In fact, sources have told KMGH-TV that his psychiatrist became concerned about Holmes and alerted the University threat assessment team about six weeks before that shooting.

Holmes' doctor could have ordered him detained for a 72-hour mental health evaluation, but sources said she declined that hold because he was withdrawing from the University. Holmes' psychiatric care stopped.

"Transitions in care can be challenging," said Dr. Hagman. "Sometimes if you're just searching for someone to see you or your child, it can take months."

In at least one recent case, a therapist was part of the system that put a man accused of planning a presidential assassination and the mass murder of school children at a Halloween event into custody.

Corey Candelaria had Mitchell Kusick admitted for a mental health hold, according to court documents.

"All therapists are held to certain legal and ethical standards -- a duty to warn if someone is a danger to themselves or the community," said Candelaria. "My work speaks for itself. I just want a healthy, safe, thriving community."

Candelaria said he would not speak about Kusick's case, but said he is no longer his therapist. 

Dr. Hagman said she thought it was a positive thing that people are now asking how to make sure people have the mental health care they need.

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