Influencers Opinion

Millions of Californians suffer from mental illness. They need our sustained support

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While the statistics can be frightening, the hopes and aspirations of families torn apart by unfulfilled potential and lost lives are worth every effort to reverse ongoing trends associated with the lack of access to behavioral health care.

We’re talking about the millions of Californians experiencing a behavioral, mental health or substance use disorder.


For those of us who spend our lives working to improve the health and well-being of our communities, rising to meet California’s behavioral health needs is one of the great challenges of our time.

We know, for example, that of the roughly 6 million people in our state confronting mental illness, only one in three are getting the help they need, and that communities of color experience profound disparities in treatment access.

We also know that mental health challenges can be complex, long-term conditions that must be treated with sustained care plans that include community integration, addressing the needs of the whole person and incorporating the growing knowledge about the negative impacts of trauma.

Chet Hewitt 29_small.jpg
Chet Hewitt

We recognize we must eliminate longstanding stigmas surrounding behavioral health disorders and barriers to care – including inequitable criminalization of substance use and unequal access to services in communities of color – so that treatment can begin before these diseases have a chance to grow more acute.

That’s why California’s hospitals and the Sierra Health Foundation are encouraged by the momentum building among the state’s leaders – Gov. Gavin Newsom, Tom Insel and others, along with health care providers and community advocates – to address obstacles for those in need of immediate help.

To meet the needs of our friends and loved ones in a meaningful, systematic way, there are several concrete measures California can take:

  • Ensure enforcement of established parity standards to make certain that insurance companies cover and treat mental health and substance use disorders the same as physical health.
  • Advance an integrated system of care that expands the capacity and availability of treatment options inside and outside of insurance coverage, including community-based providers, peer counselors, remote therapies and more, no matter where in the state care is delivered and to whom.
  • Continue to invest in a well-trained, bias-informed workforce that can meet growing demand.
  • Tackle California’s need for safe, affordable and stable housing, a vital component of mental health for both children and adults.
Carmela Coyle

California’s hospitals, the Sierra Health Foundation and the broader philanthropic community are proud to stand together to face this crisis. Only through collaboration and sustained support will communities have the strength and resources to turn the tide and deliver care to people who need and want help.

Carmela Coyle is president and CEO of the California Hospital Association. Chet P. Hewitt is the president and CEO of Sierra Health Foundation and The Center. They are both Health Care Influencers for McClatchy’s California Influencers series.
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