Mental Health Care Withers while Dollars Flow to Prevention

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

California mental health care is in a transitional stage, or disarray, depending on your perspective. The state Department of Mental Health has been taken apart, with many of its functions shifted to counties and a newly-created Department of State Hospitals.

Many of the changes to core government services—driven by enormous budget cuts during a dire economic environment—have come while the state is doling out billions of dollars generated by Proposition 63 for unusual preventive, wellness measures.

The so-called “millionaires tax,” passed in 2004, has raised $7.6 billion and created 1,500 programs that were designed, by law, not to duplicate or replace existing programs. At the time voters levied the 1% tax on millionaires, the state was in decent financial shape.

But, as Prop. 63 proponent and Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg noted in an interview with the Sacramento News & Review: “The bottom has dropped out on state and county finances. So, we’ve had this odd situation where the core system is being reduced while the whatever-it-takes and prevention system is kicking in. And some have complained that some people are getting the Cadillac while the Hyundai is no longer working.”

Those people with the broken down Hyundais aren’t pleased to see patients with serious mental illnesses go untreated while yoga classes and horseback riding programs for teens flourish.

California lacks inpatient psychiatric services in 25 of its 58 counties. The mental health budget has been slashed 21% ($764.8 million) since 2009. And prison inmate mental illness has climbed from 19% to 26% in five years.

With millions of Prop. 63 dollars flowing to celebrity-driven anti-stigma campaigns, anti-bullying programs, Indian sweat lodges, acupuncture treatment, drama classes and massage chairs for students, advocates for the mentally ill would like the state to loosen up a longstanding requirement that 20% of its regular mental health budget go to promoting mental wellness among the healthy.

That money, they say, could be better spent on the already seriously ill.

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

Calif Mental Health Dollars Bypassing Mentally Ill (by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press)

The Past, Present and Future of California’s Mental-Health System (Interview by Jeff vonKaenel with state Senate Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento News & Review)

Lawmakers Seek Audit of Mental Health Spending (by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press)

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