Steinberg Introduces National Proposal to Enhance Mental Health Services

December 20, 2012

Letter Urges Obama Administration to use California as National Model, Provide Federal Matching Funds for States

(Sacramento) – Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg has introduced a state and national proposal to enhance mental health services across the country, urging the Obama administration to adopt California’s Mental Health Services Act as a model for the nation and proposing the federal government consider a dollar-for-dollar match of funding for states willing to use their resources in building an effective and lifesaving mental health system that includes prevention and intervention services. 

Steinberg has made his proposal in a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, who has been tasked by the President to lead a commission examining mental health polices and ways to reduce gun violence in the wake of last week’s horrific mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

“While it is absolutely misguided to draw direct correlations between mental illness and such violent acts, investing in prevention and early intervention for people in the early stages of mental illness is a strategy that clearly saves lives,” said Steinberg. “The Mental Health Services Act created by Proposition 63 eight years ago is helping tens of thousands of Californians by providing a ‘whatever it takes’ approach to helping the most severely mentally ill. But by also investing in innovative intervention, we’re reaching people before they hit rock bottom.”

“These services are a model for the nation. They save money by reducing psychiatric hospitalization, emergency room visits, chronic homelessness and incarceration. More importantly, we are saving lives. What’s working here can work throughout every state in the country.”

The Mental Health Services Act was created through Proposition 63, authored by Steinberg and approved by voters in 2004. One billion dollars in funding is provided annually through a one-percent tax on Californians whose income is one million dollars or more. It’s estimated that every dollar spent through MHSA services saves $0.88 in costs to the criminal justice, health and housing services systems.

Senator Steinberg is also launching a new web site in English and Spanish which Californians can use as a centralized resource for critical mental health services. The website, www.mentalhealthhub.org, compiles information from all 58 California counties related to local mental health resources, suicide prevention and identifying the signs to look for when someone we know is in distress.

“Wherever we live throughout California, we need to be able to access key information on suicide prevention, how to spot the signs when a friend or loved one is having problems, and where to go to find the help we need. The resources are there, but right now it’s sometimes tough to find them,” said Steinberg. “We need to get the information out to everyone in each and every county; phone numbers to call, 24-hour crisis lines and web sites where you can find help for yourself or someone you know.”

Last week’s violence is only the latest of a string of mass shootings over the past several years. Mental health experts agree that there is a danger to link mental illness with such acts, as the vast majority of people living with biochemical illnesses are not prone to violent acts. However, as we all search for answers after these tragedies, one of many complex issues raised in response is the need for more comprehensive mental health services. 

Additionally, survivors and witnesses of such violent attacks and their families can suffer a level of trauma that leads to mental health challenges both in the immediate aftermath and for years to come. 

At the press conference, Senator Steinberg was joined by several practitioners and experts in the field of mental health who discussed the early warning signs of mental illness, the availability of mental health resources, suicide prevention, reducing the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, and specific issues faced by students. 

The speakers included Dr. Cameron Carter, professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UC Davis Medical Center; Eduardo Vega, executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco; Jessica Cruz, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness; Dr. Taisha L. Caldwell, program manager of Community Mental Health with California Mental Health Services and with the University of California Office of the President; and Anara Guard, senior advisor to the “Know the Signs” suicide prevention campaign.

Attached please find Senator Steinberg’s letter to the Vice President, as well as a listing of crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotlines for all 58 California Counties.

Video of the entire press conference will be posted on Senator Steinberg’s web site at http://sd06.senate.ca.gov/

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