When Jared Loughner shot and killed six people in Tucson, and severely wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords he touched off a debate about mental health services in this country.
Mental healthcare is essential to our overall health. But it is a poor second cousin to physical health. Public funding has been squeezed to the point where only the most severely ill or those requiring involuntarily treatment are likely to get mental health services. Many fall through the cracks and receive no attention because there are simply none available. At least, not until something tragic like the Arizona shootings occur.
As a clinical psychologist in community mental health, I see this lack of parity. Making mental health care available to all who need it and not just for those who can afford it, will undoubtedly improve the nation's overall health by reducing the stigma of mental illness and educating the public that being healthy means being sound of mind and fit of body.
In California we are fortunate to be at the forefront of mental health services transformation. The Mental Health Services Act of 2004 has helped our poorly funded public mental health system develop new prevention and intervention strategies for underserved communities. It sparked recruitment and training of future clinical psychologists, social workers, family therapists and peer mentors who are linguistically and culturally competent to work with a changing California. Graduate clinical programs received funding by the State Department of Mental Health to develop specific training curriculums to prepare a future workforce to address the needs of the public mental health system. Mental and primary care services will be better integrated so patients who turn to their physicians for mental health treatment will be best served.
Having an effective healthcare safety net requires money, education, training and human capital. California has been a leader on many fronts. Other states like Arizona should realize the value of a Mental Health Services Act and adopt one. If they do, the prognosis will be peace of mind.