Key Messages: Learn What’s Driving Challenges in Behavioral Health Care

Shortage of Behavioral Health Resources Means Many Californians Can’t Get the Treatment They Need

Californians with behavioral health care needs struggle to find the treatment they need.  

  • Almost one quarter of adults with a mental illness are unable to receive the treatment they need  
    — a number that has not improved over the past decade. 
  • California has a massive shortage of mental health and substance use disorder treatment professionals, and access to behavioral health care varies drastically depending on the county. 
  • A report published by the RAND Corp. found that California has a shortfall of more than 7,500 beds for people with behavioral health needs. Residents in 24 of California’s 58 counties have no in-county access to acute psychiatric hospital services. 
  • Nearly half of children and adolescents are not able to get the mental health services they need.  

Hospitals are on the front lines of the mental health and substance use disorder crisis in California.  

  • One-third of all inpatient hospitalizations and one-fifth of all emergency department visits involve patients with behavioral health disorders
  • Hospital emergency departments are the primary place people go when in crisis. Due to a lack of alternatives to emergency departments and post-hospital care options, an estimated 750 patients remain in California hospitals on any given day despite being medically ready for discharge. 

To address California’s behavioral health crisis, strategies must mirror those in primary care — where the goal is to prevent illness and provide the right care in the right setting. 

  • The state is investing billions to create comprehensive services for people with all levels of behavioral health needs. California must focus on prevention, early intervention, and community-based services to help those in need avoid hospitalization, incarceration, conservatorships, and institutionalization. 
  • Californians should support Proposition 1 in March to better meet growing behavioral health needs through investments in housing and treatment settings, as well as greater partnership with counties.