HARTFORD – The 2012 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School and similar high-profile tragedies have created a national dialogue and have catapulted mental and behavioral health to marquee status for the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Hartford is hoping to expand its behavioral health services with an increased grant from the 2015 appeal.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair also has been focusing attention on this issue. At an appeal dinner Jan. 9 in Farmington, he said, “There are a lot of people, a lot of young people, who are having serious mental difficulties. And how are we addressing this? Well, I was very, very pleased to know that with 10 counseling locations in the archdiocese, Catholic Charities is providing behavioral and mental health services and programs to more than 6,000 clients each year.”
He added that contributions to the appeal this year “will enable Catholic Charities to increase and enhance their current services and programs to serve more of these clients.”
Robyn Hawley, director of behavioral health for Catholic Charities, said that the behavioral health category includes people suffering from mental health disorders and substance abuse disorders. Nationally, nearly 44 million adults per year experience some form of mental illness, she said.
“The statistics on mental health are that about one third of people with mental health concerns will recover without any treatment, one third will recover with treatment, and one third will need ongoing treatment,” said Ms. Hawley, who is a licensed clinical social worker and who has worked for over 25 years in behavioral health, including 10 years with Catholic Charities.
In Connecticut, almost 17 percent of adults have some form of mental illness, she said. “So, based on our population of 3.6 million in 2014, that’s roughly 600,000 adults,” she added.
For children between 13 and 18, the statistics are more alarming. Nationally, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of these children live with a mental health condition. About 50 percent of children 14 and older with a mental illness will drop out of high school.
Behavioral health issues have a ripple effect on society, she said. “When people are really depressed and anxious, they have trouble functioning, so they’re not eating well, they’re not sleeping well, they’re not functioning well.”
The ripples spread to poor parenting, conflicts in relationships, children acting out in school, and job loss that often leads to state assistance and a burden on taxpayers. “That ripple is very far-reaching,” she said.
“The agency puts quite a bit of money in behavioral health. It’s sort of our flagship thing that we got started with,” Ms. Hawley said.
Marek K. Kukulka, chief of operations and interim CEO for Catholic Charities, said slightly more than $2 million from the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal goes to Catholic Charities, and 46 percent of that, or about $960,000, funds behavioral health programs.
Ms. Hawley said that the agency’s behavioral health budget is about $7 million, and a hoped-for increase from the appeal this year would allow the agency to expand those services. If, for example, Catholic Charities could invest $75,000 more in those programs, they could hire a full-time clinician and serve an additional 100 to 125 people per year.
She stressed that this was only an example and that no decision had yet been made about how much more appeal money would become available to Catholic Charities’ behavioral health programs.
Mr. Kukulka said, “Behavioral health services is one of those basic human needs that need to be attended to because if they are not, the consequences of that can be very tragic. I think it’s a good move on the part of the archdiocese and Catholic Charities to not only maintain but increase the availability of those services. I think a lot of people can benefit from them.”