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On Behavioral Health, ‘…No State More Capable…’

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About a year ago, the Behavioral Health Action Coalition held a historic forum focused on mental health and substance use disorders in California, featuring then-Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. This week, in a much-deserved recognition, the coalition named Gov. Newsom a Behavioral Health Champion.

CHA co-founded Behavioral Health Action in 2018 with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, California, to lead a partnership of more than 50 organizations from health care, education, labor, law enforcement, local government, and business — all focused on eliminating stigma and engaging lawmakers to develop solutions to the behavioral health challenges faced by millions of Californians (check out all of our efforts here and here).

The coalition’s one-on-one conversation with Newsom shortly before his election to the governor’s office was a catalyst for something new in California: As lieutenant governor, he was the highest-ranking statewide official to meet with such a wide array of behavioral health professionals.

That forum was the beginning not just of a high-level public discussion about the needs of people who face behavioral health challenges — but also the beginning of meaningful statewide change. As he said then about the need for California to set an example for the nation, [there is] no state more capable than this state to truly lead in this space.”

Once in office, Gov. Newsom quickly announced a first-ever special advisor on mental health care, Tom Insel, MD, who continues to advance the conversation on improving lives and innovating behavioral health care. And, the governor has — most importantly  — championed mental health funding on a statewide level.

This year’s state budget recognizes the need for mental health workforce development with $150 million, including $20 million for hospitals to use in emergency departments. It also includes $100 million for whole person care pilot programs, and $70 million for Medi-Cal integration programs.

We were grateful a year ago when he sat down to talk with us and pledged his commitment, and we are grateful now for the important steps he has already taken to help make California a global model for behavioral health.

To borrow from Gov. Newsom: “This is an issue that demands to be treated on par with physical health… and with a sense of urgency.”

Half of us will care for someone living with a mental health issue at some point in our lives. If we are to make good on our commitment to improve lives and relieve suffering, we need to continue to support leaders like Gov. Newsom who champion a better system to care for those with behavioral health needs.

— Carmela