Guest Opinion: Addressing California's mental health crisis

  • by Corey Jackson
  • Wednesday June 7, 2023
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Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy the Assemblymember's office
Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D. Photo: Courtesy the Assemblymember's office

We, as Californians, have made significant progress in recognizing and affirming the rights of the LGBTQ community. However, amid the celebrations and raising of the symbolic Pride flag, we must confront a grim reality: a silent epidemic that is plaguing our marginalized community —the mental health crisis.

Research reveals a tragic truth about the mental health challenges that disproportionately affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning community. As the first Black openly gay member elected to the California State Assembly, I can attest to personal experiences along my trajectory that have caused a great deal of harm to my mental health. Research consistently demonstrates that LGBTQ individuals experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts. The discrimination and societal pressures they endure often result in elevated levels of stress and profound emotional distress.

According to a report from the American Psychiatric Association, LGBTQ individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime. In addition, this report states that, approximately 31% of LGBTQ older adults report depressive symptoms; 39% report serious thoughts of taking their own lives.

The LGBTQ community is among the populations in our society widely affected by the lack of resources and support for this crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the existing pressures LGBTQ individuals faced on a daily basis. Regardless of age, LGBT adults have consistently reported higher rates of symptoms of both anxiety and depression than non-LGBTQ adults during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's experimental Household Pulse Survey.

Despite the clear need for increased mental health services, California's mental health system is underfunded and understaffed. This shortage is particularly acute in rural areas, where access to mental health services is even more limited. We must ensure that mental health services are accessible to all, regardless of identity expression. We must break down the barriers that prevent individuals from accessing quality care and support. We need a comprehensive strategy that includes prevention, early intervention, and treatment. We need to educate our communities about mental health, reduce stigma, and provide culturally competent care. We need to train more mental health professionals and support them with fair compensation and resources.

As chair of the Select Committee on California's Mental Health Crisis, I plan to aggressively tackle this issue. That is why I have introduced two bills focused on increasing access to mental health services in vulnerable communities. The first piece of legislation, Assembly Bill 1451, removes the requirement of preauthorization for urgent and emergent mental health treatment in order to ensure timely treatment.

The second bill, AB 1450, would require K-12 schools, county office of education, or charter school to conduct universal screenings for adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and mental health conditions of all students. AB 1450 also requires schools to employ or contract with at least one mental health clinician, and at least one case manager to conduct these critical and lifesaving screenings. Lastly, this bill will require the mental health clinician who conducts a screening to develop and provide an action plan based upon findings from the screening. We know when ACEs and mental health conditions are caught early, outcomes can improve for everyone involved — both those suffering from these conditions and for those providing the care.

But these bills are just the beginning. We need to come together as a state to demand action on mental health. The mental health crisis in California is a complex problem that will require a comprehensive, coordinated response. But the stakes are too high to ignore. We must come together as a state to prioritize mental health and ensure that all Californians have access to the care they need to thrive.

I urge you to join me in this fight for mental health justice in California. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Lives are at stake. We must act now.

Assemblymember Corey Jackson, Ph.D., (D-Perris) is a gay man who represents the 60th Assembly District in the Inland Empire. He is a former member of the Riverside County Board of Education and is the first Black LGBTQ person elected to the California Legislature.

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