Republican American: Area candidates focus on mental health policies at Torrington forum

First appeared in the Republican American on 10/18/2018 here.

BY DAVID AARO Republican-American

TORRINGTON – With 11 area candidates for the Nov. 6 election listening, city resident Arthur Orr acknowledged the costs involved with treating his illness.

“I’ve been mentally ill for all my life, so you can imagine how much I’ve cost the state over my entire life,” said Orr, who is in his 60s. “I can’t even imagine it.”

But after being treated at Prime Time House, he said those costs have gone way down for only one reason: He is getting better.

“My costs have gone from thousands of dollars to almost nothing because I don’t need to go to the hospital anymore,” Orr said.

Two state senators, as well as five state representatives and some of their challengers, took part in a forum on mental health Thursday at Prime Time House, a private, nonprofit organization that works with adults with mental illness living in Litchfield County to lead productive, independent lives.

The candidates were Sens. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield, and Kevin D. Witkos, R-Canton; Miner’s Democratic challenger, David Lawson of New Milford; Rep. Brian M. Ohler, R-Canaan, and his Democratic challenger, Maria Horn of Salisbury; Rep. Jay M. Case, R-Winsted, and his Democratic challenger, A. Candy Perez of Winsted; Rep. Michelle L. Cook, D-Torrington, and her Republican challenger, Molly Spino of Torrington; and Reps. David T. Wilson, R-Litchfield, and William Simanski, R-Granby.

They discussed their policies on mental health and answered questions from local residents with mental health issues. The forum was moderated by Janine Sullivan Wiley, executive director of Northwest Regional Mental Health Board. She took questions from concerned residents, many of whom simply wanted to share their stories of combating mental health challenges, while at the same time asking for ways to improve their way of life.

Horn and Lawson both told Orr the importance of treating mental health issues proactively when a person is young. Horn said combating childhood trauma and stress is a priority not only for mental health, but also for cutting costs.

Lawson mentioned Unified Sports, which the Special Olympics offers. He believes giving people with mental health challenges a sense of belonging will help assist their long-term growth.

Another resident asked the candidates what incentive is there for her to get off disability and work a minimum-wage job, especially when she qualifies for more benefits while on disability.

Witkos said he attempted to pass a bill allowing those with families to stay on disability during the early stages of their new job. It didn’t pass, but he said he’s willing to propose it again next year.

Cook’s solution is to raise the minimum wage, while at the same time creating an index for businesses so they know the amount won’t fluctuate.

“Quite frankly, who can live off 15 or 18 dollars (an hour), especially if you’re a single parent?” Cook asked. “I, however, won’t agree to this unless we have an index.”

Both Democrat and Republican candidates seemed to agree on the importance of mental health treatment. They also shared how important it was to hear from people with mental health challenges. Sullivan Wiley even quipped at the end of the forum how impressed she was that no candidates talked badly about their competition during the session.

“It’s powerful because politics are all about people,” Horn said. “Mental illness affects a wide variety of people. In fact, we have no idea how many people, so to humanize that is very important.”

MediaMeghan FlanaganMedia