More than two million adults in California say they need mental health care, but about half of them aren't getting it, according to a report released Wednesday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
California mandates health insurance companies provide equal care for mental and physical health problems. But mental health services are often inadequate--or they don't exist at all, says lead author David Grant.
One reason is when hospitals want to cut costs, mental health care is often the first to go. Grant notes that, just this morning, LA's Cedars-Sinai Medical Center announced it is cutting most of its psychiatric services.
"It's a disaster," Grant said about Cedars-Sinai's closing. "Health care is undergoing so much change and it's under so much financial stress right now. Providers are really looking for ways to reduce health care costs."
As The Los Angeles Times reports, these cuts are a part of a larger, statewide trend:
California has roughly 6,500 acute in-patient psychiatric beds, down from 8,500 in 1996, according to the California Hospital Assn. There have also been significant cutbacks in Medi-Cal funding for mental health services statewide.
But closing mental health facilities might not save money in the long run. Grant says that's because people with mental health needs are more likely to have chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
"These are folks that are going to have higher smoking rates, drinking rates, higher rates of disability," Grant said. "And these are factors that will cost the state more and more financial resources."
The study also shows there are huge disparities in who actually needs mental health services. Statewide, eight percent of Californians report a mental health issue. But within the LGBT community 20 percent, more than double the state average, report a problem; 17 percent of unmarried women with children, and 12 percent of US-born Latinos also have mental health needs.
Grant says he hopes the report will increase awareness that these groups need to be screened more frequently ... assuming their hospital still has a psychiatric program.
This post was originally published in "State of Health," KQED's new health blog.