The mental health crisis in California must be addressed. Families are being torn apart, with loved ones lost to addiction, self-harming and other mental health-related tragedies. According to research conducted by Let’s Get Healthy California, suicides are now the second leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults ages 15-24 in California. Enough is enough.
Nearly 1 in 7 California adults’ experiences a mental illness. But a recent survey by the California Health Care Foundation found close to two-thirds of adults with a mental illness and two-thirds of adolescents with major depressive episodes did not get treatment. Why is this? This can be fueled by a combination of factors, including the lack of access to quality care, a shortage of mental health professionals and systemic barriers that prevent people of color from receiving the help they need. Individuals struggling with mental health issues also face stigma, discrimination, and shame, which often exacerbates their conditions and make it even more difficult for them to seek help.
Despite the clear need for increased mental health services, California’s mental health system is underfunded and understaffed. This shortage is particularly acute in rural areas, where access to mental health services is even more limited. We must ensure that mental health services are accessible to all, regardless of income or ZIP code. We must break down the barriers that prevent individuals from accessing quality care and support.
This crisis impacts everyone, regardless of race, gender, or socio-economic status. Yet, marginalized communities are disproportionately affected. African American and Latino Californians are less likely to receive mental health treatment, despite being more likely to experience trauma and stress. This is unacceptable.
We need a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, early intervention, and treatment. We need to educate our communities about mental health, reduce stigma, and provide culturally competent care. We need to train more mental health professionals and support them with fair compensation and resources.
As chair of the Select Committee on California’s Mental Health Crisis, I plan to aggressively tackle this issue. That is why I have introduced two bills focused on increasing access to mental health services in low-income communities. The first bill, Assembly Bill 1451, provides funding for counties to establish in-patient and out-patient mental health urgent care units in communities with at least 70% free or reduced lunch communities. This bill also funds community health worker programs to provide mental health services to those who need it most.
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The second bill, Assembly Bill 1450, would require K-12 schools, county office of education and charter school to conduct universal screenings for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and mental health conditions of all students. AB 1450 also requires schools to employ or contract with at least one mental health clinician, and at least one case manager to conduct these critical and lifesaving screenings. Lastly, this bill will require the mental health clinician who conducts a screenings to develop, and provide an action plan based upon findings from the screening. We know when ACEs and mental health conditions are caught early, outcomes can be improved.
These bills are just the beginning. We need to come together as a state to demand action on mental health. The mental health crisis in California is a complex problem that will require a comprehensive, coordinated response. But the stakes are too high to ignore. I urge you to join me in this fight for mental health justice in California.
Corey Jackson represents Assembly District 60.