By Steven Kite, Chief Operating Officer
The mental health care system in California remains fragmented, separated and ineffective. Both on the private and public fronts, care systems struggle to grapple with both the short term and long term needs of individuals living with mental illness and their families. Although research has shown many best practice options, we have yet to see them implemented comprehensively in any area of our great state.
Although we haven’t reached the finish line, California has taken many bold steps to try to address the many effects of mental illness. California determined decades ago that people with mental illness should be treated in their communities rather than institutionalized, however, until the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) the state lacked the funding to do so. “Help first versus fail first” has been the primary ethic since 2000, and MHSA marked a strategic undertaking towards making it a reality.
Through a variety of programs from severe mental illness (SMI) symptom prevention to “whatever it takes” support to prevent jail time and homelessness by restoring stability to individuals living with SMI and their families, the MSHA marked a paradigm shift of programs and standards of care with new emphasis on wellness, recovery, resilience and hope.
In 2014, the Little Hoover Commission reviewed the progress of the MHSA. NAMI California’s Chief Executive Officer, Jessica Cruz, urged lawmakers and appointees of the Commission to call for a more standardized, cohesive and consistent system for oversight of MHSA programs and funds in order to effectively reach these new standards.
Cruz further told the Commission, “The MHSA was designed to provide new funding to expand mental health services statewide, not to serve as the sole funding source for county mental health programs and services,” and that “if a county is not adhering to the vision of the MHSA, there is no statewide oversight body with authority over county MHSA funding distribution that would be able to oversee the process.”
The need for a standardized approach to care throughout our state is clear. Families in counties across California are suffering needlessly with varying abilities to seek care depending on their zip code. We cannot allow this senseless system to continue. We must work together to reach a California where mental illness is treated with parity in all systems and in all areas of our state as with any other illness.
We continue to promote and ensure this standard of care throughout the state—which aims to keep those living with mental illness and their families supported, educated, advocated for, out of the criminal justice system, in appropriate care settings, and housed. Those of us who access care in California, who worked hard for the passage of the MHSA and our many other funding streams for mental illness, expect state-level oversight and evaluation of services as well as statewide standards of care for ourselves and our loved ones.