WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- The recent tragedy in Connecticut not only renewed the gun control debate, but also the issue of behavioral/mental health.
Edward Howard of the Alliance For Health Reform says, "Mental health services are sort of the step child of the American healthcare system, one out of every 5 adults have some kind of mental health need but we don't get them the services they need."
He adds the costs and stigma of mental healthcare in the US makes for a system that needs improvement, and most people don't qualify for the services provided by Medicaid. The recession forced states to slash spending for behavioral and mental health.
Howard says, "Plus from a demand standpoint, if you are unemployed, you are about four times more likely to need mental health services."
So the recession both increased demand and decreased services. But after this year's high number of mass shootings, many say our access to mental healthcare needs to improve.
Jeffrey Lieberman, MD of Columbia University Medical Center told CBS News, "A lot of the individuals that are doing this have identifiable mental problems. If we have a more proactive, a more widely available and more accessible set of mental healthcare services in this country, our society will be a lot better off."
In fact, a study released in June 2005 that was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that most mental disorders begin between the ages of 14 and 24. The average delay in getting proper care is nearly a decade. The study included researchers from Harvard University, the University of Michigan, and the NIMH Intramural Research Program.
President Obama said in a press conference Wednesday, "We're gonna need to work on making access to mental healthcare at least as easy as access to a gun."
Howard says, "In almost all of the developed countries, the healthcare system including behavioral health, mental health is much more fully developed."
A sign of progress, four years ago a bi-partisan move called the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act that requires employers to include mental health services along with traditional healthcare is now being phased in.. The Essential Health Benefits portion of the healthcare overhaul law also expands mental health treatment, but advocates say more action needs to be taken to enact lasting change.
Howard says, "If we have the will to do it, we could see see substantial improvement both at the federal and state level within the next session of Congress within the next legislative session in many states."
Psychiatrists say the highest risk time for mood, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders is in adolescence. In fact, some describe mental illness as the chronic disease of the young. Without help, they can become far more severe over time.