Looking at resources for treating mental illnesses

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- As the nation begins to move forward after last week's tragic school shooting in Connecticut, there have been several ideas brought to the table on how we can try to prevent something like this from happening again.

How we treat mental illness is one of those topics.

The Wisconsin Council on Mental Health estimates there are about 330,000 people in Wisconsin with a serious mental health condition.

"Certainly when a tragedy like this happens it really brings it to the forefront," said Larry Winter, the Director of the Chippewa County Department of Human Services.

He says mental health is not an "umbrella term" and says it is important people with a diagnosis are not painted with too broad of a brush.

He says it is rare for it to lead to something like we saw last week in Connecticut. Still, he says we need to put more focus on mental health since it does not get the same attention as other diseases.

When you look specifically at funding, he says there may be some promise with the Affordable Care Act, allowing more people to get covered. But at the state level, funding is flat for the 2013-2015 state budgets.

"We are bracing for the fact that we won't be getting anymore, we're not expecting any cuts, but we know we are not going anymore," he said.

Across the country, states have cut $2.1 billion from mental health budgets over the last few years.

At the local level, Winter says mental health makes up 25% of the $2.6 million Department of Human Services budget in Chippewa County.

He says it is up to the taxpayers to decide whether that needs to be more or less.

He says there is also the issue of choice, whether people who need help, want it.

"We can also offer people services, but if they don't meet that level of where we can intervene, they have a right to choose, and we don't have a right to intervene," he added.

An issue that cannot be solved instantly.

"It's not just simply by saying we're gonna change a law, it's a multi variable approach that's gonna have an impact in the long run," he added.

If you or someone you know has a mental illness and needs help, you can call the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-NAMI.

NAMI has also released information about how to approach the subject of the Sandy Hook school when you are talking with your kids. Click here for more.