Opinion

Time to take action on behavioral health

A depressed man sits alone atop an office building. (Photo: Fure, via Shutterstock)

The effects of poor behavioral health can be seen all around us every day. We see it in the form of alcoholism or drug addiction, including the epidemic of opioid use.  It can be seen in the daily struggles of those with depression, anxiety, or other psychiatric conditions. It can make headlines, as with the shocking suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade.

We witness it in the growing number of homeless, many suffering from mental illness, who populate streets throughout California.

Nearly one in six California adults has a mental health need, and one in 20 suffer from a serious mental illness, according to the California Health Care Foundation.

We see it, but for too long, we have simply lived with behavioral health issues as a part of our daily landscape. Stigma, shame and misunderstanding have discouraged us from openly discussing behavioral health and how it affects the lives of our families, neighbors, friends, and co-workers.

It’s time to end that shame – and it’s time to bring the discussion about behavioral health out of the shadows, and directly into the political mainstream.  That’s why, in this election year, we have launched a unique coalition of non-traditional partners called Behavioral Health Action.

More than 50 statewide organizations ranging from law enforcement, labor, education, the courts, business, local government, and health care providers have joined together, along with families and individuals impacted by behavioral health conditions, to generate public awareness and political dialogue among our elected leaders about the importance of behavioral health.

Behavioral Health Action expects candidates for governor of California, and other elected offices, to prioritize behavioral health and work with us on common goals that include prevention and early intervention, and improved workforce development.

And 85 percent said it was personally important to them that candidates for office make it a priority to address the problems of mental health.

Behavioral Health Action was formed to elevate, educate, and innovate. We want to elevate and raise awareness about the need for good behavioral health. We want to educate about necessary steps to address behavioral health challenges. And we intend to innovate by thinking about behavioral health in a new way, along with developing new kinds of solutions.

It’s clear from the results of a new statewide poll commissioned by Behavioral Health Action that voters share this desire for answers.

According to the poll conducted by David Binder Research in San Francisco,  84 percent of likely voters statewide believe that increasing access to treatment for mental illness and addiction can help solve the growing problems of homelessness.  And 85 percent said it was personally important to them that candidates for office make it a priority to address the problems of mental health and drug and alcohol addiction.

Nearly one in six California adults has a mental health need, and one in 20 suffer from a serious mental illness, according to the California Health Care Foundation.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate in our country jumped 30 percent between 1999 and 2016.

Behavioral Health Action intends to be a powerful catalyst in not only raising the profile of unmet behavioral health needs but also in mapping out concrete solutions that will benefit all Californians.

Behavioral health matters.  We must insist that this be a key priority for the candidates who seek our vote in 2018.

Ed’s Note: Carmela Coyle is president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. Jessica Cruz is CEO of National Alliance on Mental Illness, California


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