Statewide, mental health needs cut across social lines
I have been spending the last few reporting months with men and women in pressing need of comprehensive mental health services. Arguably, for their own safety, they should have an alternative -- the type of locked facilities that are no longer part of California's institutional landscape.
One man sees a bridge spanning a sun-splashed bay, and suicidal ideation, or threats of jumping off it, become part of the interview. Another offers detailed accounts of combat in Southeast Asia, but the Veteran's Administration finds nothing of the sort in service records that show a five-month stint ending with a medical discharge.
Their stories will be part of an upcoming project that I won't detail here as we work to meet deadlines with our reporting partner.
However, a new survey by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reminded me that mental illness not only grips the marginalized men and women in my story, but people in all walks of life.
The people in my project include the homeless, recently released inmates, and group-home residents. But they were excluded from the UCLA study, which was a snapshot of the general population.
According to the study a large percentage of Joe and Jane Smith Californians-- nearly 8 percent of the state population -- report psychological distress and difficulty functioning at home or work. They did so enough times over a 12-month period to meet the Kessler 6, or K6, measure of serious mental illness within a population.
The majority of these 2.3 million adults are receiving inadequate services, or no services at all, according to the Nov. 30 study. And it doesn't appear that a lack of available services is the major impediment.
David Grant, lead author of the report, pointed out that mental health treatment is mandated in private insurance policies, but few working Californians with mental health needs seem to be taking advantage.
"Stigma associated with mental health remains a powerful barrier to seeking treatment," he said.
The people who are the subjects of my story are often ashamed of their condition. Despite mental illness being more common than we care to admit, the stigma attached to it cuts across all social backgrounds.