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On February 28th, individuals participated in a Behavioral Health Wellness Fair at the Capitol in Sacramento. The day consisted of members meeting with elected officials, sharing resources through a wellness fair, and an opportunity to attend an informational hearing led by Senator Pan titled, “Mental Health Delivery: The Global Forefront” focused on hearing from implemented best mental health practices around the world.

NAMI California is appreciative of individuals who participated representing geographic areas from Bay Area, San Joaquin, Solano and Amador counties. In addition, participants embodied diverse communities on behalf of the LGBTQ, African American, Latina, and Asian populations. People shared their lived experience touching upon various cultural barriers, factors and stigma with a collective connection to access to treatment. The group of six advocated for offices to ensure any new mental health related proposals ensure access to a full range of person centered care and services. Advocates shared a sense of empowerment, community, and optimism in working together to strengthen the mental health system.

Access to treatment is particularly limited within underserved communities. To address this issue, programs and treatment services that are culturally relevant and appropriate must increase and sustain funding to fully implement an array of appropriate services in every county across California. Another underline theme of shared experiences was access to early psychosis programs and resources like UC Davis Early Psychosis Programs that are nationally recognized. Currently there are only 24 out of 58 counties in California with early psychosis programs. We want to see best practices shared and more collaboration to assist counties with increased services for all populations especially for diverse and underserved populations.

We conducted three legislative visits with members from Senate and Assembly Health Committees. We spoke with staff (Nycole Baurch, Committee Assistant and Jessica Golly) from Senator Connie Leyva’s Office. The group also met with the office of Assembly Member Health Flora who is another Health Committee member and his legislative staff to discuss access to treatment. Lastly, the group met with staff from Assembly Autumn Burke who is currently a member of the Assembly Health Committee and a champion for children’s health and poverty issues. Staff from Assembly member Burke’s office shared with us personal lived experience and had a strong connection to individuals who shared their lived experience and cultural barriers regarding stigma and access to treatment.

In an initial visit staff shared the aspect of hearing about lived experiences from constituents as most useful and what helps guide mental health policy and supports. All offices were advised to reach out to NAMI California and advocacy partners regarding any additional information on introduced mental health related proposals to help connect and share lived experience or expertise to inform stronger policy decisions at the State level.

We will continue to create supported opportunities for individuals impacted by serious mental illness to share their lived experience to support and improve policies that address behavioral health services and supports across California. While engaging diverse advocates with legislative staff we ultimately provide stigma reduction and cultural competency awareness to policymakers. Mental health impacts all and as one attendee put it, “We are not Alone”.

NAMI California looks forward to creating and participating in additional advocacy events for many years to come. We also want to make sure we are actively engaging and reaching underserved communities throughout the legislative process. Our goal and hope is that we will have every community represented during these legislative visits and work to make sure all communities have a voice and can influence proposed mental health related legislation.