Behavioral health is important as it refers to – and works to address – mental and substance abuse issues. The connection between behavioral health and physical health are inextricably linked and can exacerbate each other if not detected and treated. An individual living with a chronic health condition may be at higher risk to develop a mental health disorder, such as depression, which can increase one’s risk to develop a substance dependency. These comorbidities can further increase one’s chances of other issues including homelessness or involvement in the criminal justice system. This is certainly not the case for the majority of those living with these conditions. As a former prosecutor, I witnessed the impact behavioral health has on an individual through a criminal justice lens.
Public policy makers must examine behavioral health in conjunction with physical health to help ensure laws, regulations, and government sponsored programs are crafted to best serve the health of the whole person.
Like much of the rest of the country, California must make more of a commitment to expanding access to care and treatment for those living with a mental illness and those struggling with substance abuse. The state did well to expand Medi-Cal, as Medicaid is the largest payer of mental health services in the United States. This was a tremendous step to serving our state and providing coverage.
California would also do well to examine appropriate and responsible alternative methods for helping those with mental health and substance abuse issues who enter the judicial system. For example, I was a strong advocate for the Veterans Treatment Court in Monterey County, which works to resolve criminal cases involving veterans through treatment and support. They work to examine the root cause of a veteran’s criminal behavior, and seek to provide that individual with the support and guidance they need to stay out of the judicial system and stay healthy. As we learn more about the link between substance abuse and combatrelated mental illness, California should further examine ways to address this unique population, and further seek ways to help non-veterans with mental illness and substance abuse issues entering into the criminal justice system.
Destigmatizing behavioral health conditions is an ongoing issue the state and the country face. California must ensure that those living with mental health illness have adequate access to coverage and treatment. Further, through the integration of care, California may further link physical and behavioral health issues as intertwined and craft policies that work to treat them as such.
I will continue to be a strong advocate for behavioral health as a public policy priority. Before entering Congress, I fought for the implementation of a Veterans Treatment Court in Monterey County, and bring that same commitment with me to Washington, D.C. Ensuring that federal funding and services are available to address juvenile and adults with behavioral health issues is critical to the long-term health of our country.
As a former prosecutor, my introduction to behavioral health was through the lens of the criminal justice system. A 2006 Bureau of Justice Statistics report indicated that approximately 74 percent of state prisoners, 63 percent of federal prisoners, and 76 percent of jail inmates met the criteria of a mental health disorder. More than 40 percent of state prisoners had indices for both mental and substance abuse disorders. In the juvenile justice system, over half met the criteria for a mental illness and 60 percent for a substance abuse disorder. I want to advance public policy that will better prevent, identify, and treat these individuals before they reach the courtroom, and in doing so foster an environment that better helps all those with behavioral health needs.