By Ashley Yarchin

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Besides gun control, since Friday's school shooting in Connecticut, there's also been a lot of discussion about mental health care.

The best way to take a look at this is by recalling that back in 2010 the state's Department of Mental Health closed acute care units in St. Louis, Fulton, and Farmington to save money.

The good news is that area hospitals realized there was still a need that could be met. The St. Louis facility was re-opened as a psychiatric stabilization center without the emergency room, meaning patients could be transferred there for treatment after going to a hospital first.

But still, with less available care across the state, and funding continuing to dwindle, agencies like Mental Health America are working overtime to lobby to lawmakers to get some help.

The fear is that without it people can't and won't get the treatment they need.

NewsChannel 5 spoke with the group's president and CEO Monday afternoon, and he explained that even though the shooting can't directly be blamed on mental illness, it is in the community's hands to use that tragic event to kick start an effort to address some serious needs here.

"There are not enough psychiatrists in our region, particularly child psychiatrists are very hard to get into. I think our public mental health system is very underfunded and that means that sometimes providers have to turn away people who may be in psychiatric crisis or may be suicidal. They don't want to do that. They want to help everybody who comes to them but something the funding just isn't available, and that is a tragedy in our community," said Mark Utterback with Mental Health America.

The trickledown effect can also be seen in our nation's emergency rooms in the ones not designated specifically for mental health.

The clinical chief of the Emergency Department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital says in the last five years he has seen at least a 30 percent increase in patients going to the ER seeking care for behavioral health needs.

And that comes with a whole host of problems.

Yes, it's good that the folks who need treatment are seeking it out, but there just aren't enough beds to deal with those issues. And with more pressing emergencies like heart attacks and strokes, it weighs on resources.

No matter what, though, there was a huge lesson to be learned from what happened in Newtown.

Despite the obstacles, each and every expert NewsChannel 5 met with Monday expressed the same thing that people need to remember treatment works.

So, if you or someone you know needs help, seek it out.

Mental health resources courtesy of Behavioral Health Response:
St. Louis County Youth Connection Helpline (for St. Louis County youth age 19 and under)
Text: 4HLP to 31658

St. Charles County Youth Connection Helpline (for St. Charles County youth age 18 and under)
Text: BSAFE to 31658

Behavioral Health Response Eastern Region of Missouri (all ages)

Suicide Lifeline

Kids Under Twenty One (KUTO)

Life Crisis

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