Earlier this month, during Mental Health Awareness Month, Behavioral Health Action — a coalition of more than 50 statewide organizations including CHA — released a new blueprint for behavioral health care in California.
The blueprint, which prioritizes investments in prevention, early assessment, and aggressive treatment to minimize the impact of behavioral health crises, comes at a critical time for Californians as we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression averaged 38% between April 2020 and February 2021, compared to just 11% of adults reporting such symptoms between January and June 2019, according to CDC data.
In other words, California’s behavioral health crisis is about to get a lot worse, and action is needed now.
The coalition, which I co-chair with NAMI California CEO Jessica Cruz, does not push for any specific legislation to address longstanding challenges, such as delays in care, barriers to access care entirely, mental health and substance use disorders among incarcerated populations, and others.
Instead, it calls for improvement on several community goals including: reducing delays in treatment, reducing racial and ethnic disparities, reducing re-hospitalizations, increasing screenings for minors, and more. It also outlines a pathway to achieve these goals via an effective, equitable statewide standard of care for behavioral health.
It is now up to policymakers, providers, and others to take up the blueprint offered by Behavioral Health Action so we can begin to chip away at the problems that have languished for too long. This year, CHA is co-sponsoring with NAMI California a bill authored by Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin that would create a new director-level position within state government to oversee a comprehensive behavioral health crisis services system.
This is an important measure stemming from the work of the coalition and aligned with the new blueprint. But it is only one step. There are many other ideas that the blueprint offers to help make sure California’s standard for behavioral health care is second to none.
That’s why it’s vital to continue efforts to share the blueprint and the stories of how the current system’s shortcomings affect our friends and families (this recent piece in the OC Register does both). As we do so, Behavioral Health Action will rely on coalition partners to raise awareness, secure buy-in, and build consensus in the way that no single organization can do alone, because for an issue of this magnitude, it is only together that we can overcome the challenges before us.