Sergeant William Davidson had been struggling with mental health problems since his deployment to Afghanistan. When he didn’t attend at least one of his Connecticut National Guard drill weekends, the Guard declared him AWOL (absent without leave) and discharged him with a “bad paper” separation. Four months after his discharge, Davidson, 24, fatally shot himself. Davidson, who had two younger sisters, is one among thousands of veterans who die by suicide each year. Despite national goals to prevent veteran suicides, they occur at disproportionately higher rates than in the general population.
People with severe mental illness die 25 years earlier than the general population and 68 percent of the mentally ill have at least one chronic physical health condition, studies show. They don’t receive the care they need because mentally ill people are often discriminated against by medical practitioners and their mental illness can make it difficult for them to be proactive about their care, according to several mental health professionals. Daniela Giordano, public policy director of National Alliance for Mental Illness of Connecticut, said the problem is often a lack of understanding of mental illness by some health care providers. Giordano said she knows of people with mental illness whose “thoughts and comments were dismissed” by medical providers who view these patients through “a different lens.”
A state project is addressing such barriers to necessary medical care faced by low-income mentally ill people. Under the program, called Behavioral Health Homes (BHH) and based in mental health facilities where people are already receiving outpatient services, staff members coordinate participants’ mental health and primary care.
When the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9-11, clients rushed to a Hartford clinic in a panic. They were, for the most part, Southeast Asians who’d immigrated to this country after the Vietnam War. The clients, not fluent in English and still suffering from PTSD, came in hysterics crying, “Is it happening again? Is it happening again?”
Connecticut has just one clinic funded by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services that treats primarily Asian-Americans. The clinic, in Hartford, serves Connecticut’s Asian-Pacific community, which includes people from 21 countries who speak 35 different languages.