By Patricia Marrone Bennett and Roberta Chambers
Last night, we had the privilege of attending a celebration for the restoration of mental health funding in the California state budget. For the first time in history, mental health funding was increased after decades of devastating cuts that have undermined the infrastructure and capacity of the public mental health system. The idea for the party was hatched by Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a mental health advocate and champion for mental health and disability rights, and hosted by Rusty Selix, leader of the California Mental Health Association and California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies (CCCMHA).
On very short notice, about 120 of us gathered to celebrate the additional $142 million dollars that was added to the State mental health budget this year – an unprecedented event in the history of California mental health state budgets. It was uplifting to experience this celebration with many people from different parts of the state and from different sectors of our mental health community. Staff and Commissioners from the Oversight and Accountability Commission, County Mental Health Directors from the California Mental Health Directors Association (CMHDA), consumer and family advocates, non-profit service providers from CCCMHA, and mental health advocates were in attendance. We met new allies, reconnected with old friends, and ran into many of our current partners. As Rusty Selix shared in his opening address, this was a gathering of “family” that has been working together tirelessly over the years fighting for funds, progressive policies, and systems change. Conversations celebrated our collective accomplishments while acknowledging the work that remains on funding, service transformation, and stigma reduction.
For the current California budget, Senator Steinberg proposed and won increased funding for cost-effective crisis mental health services which the Governor signed into law. As we know, crisis mental health services can reduce the need for expensive hospitalizations, shorten hospital stays, prevent emergency room visits, and divert individuals from the criminal justice system. They also help protect individuals who are experiencing a psychiatric crisis from further trauma that is too often the product of emergency room visits or institutionalization. As a result, this year’s budget includes 2,000 additional beds in crisis residential treatment programs and 25 mobile crisis support teams. These teams of mental health workers and programs will provide services to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. While last night was very pleasurable, we are mindful of the fact that there is still much to be done to provide help to those who need it, to prevent others from ever having to need it, and to eliminate the stigma of mental illness.