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What California’s leaders said about behavioral health in 2019


Here’s what we heard from the California leaders who became Behavioral Health Champions in 2019:

  1. Personal stories that destigmatize 
  2. A call for leadership on the issue
  3. A desire for mental health parity 

Remind me: 10% of state lawmakers became Behavioral Health Champions in 2019. For the number crunchers, that’s 12 of the 120 Senators and Assemblymembers.

We heard many personal stories: 

  • Governor Gavin Newsom: “You know, I lost my grandfather to suicide. And, prisoner of war 5 years, WWII, came back very different person, ultimately took his own life. I had a mother that self-medicated, deeply depressed, and self-medicated with big can of wente jugs from Safeway, you know that’s how she went to bed.”
  • Asm. Sharon Quirk-Silva: I lost a brother this last October, hasn’t even been a year yet, who struggled with alcoholism and was in and out of being homeless. And although in many ways I felt like we had some tools because of the work I had done, we realized that it is very, very difficult to work with somebody who’s struggling with addictions and other issues to just fix it.”
  • Asm. David Chiu: “I thought back to my own experience of one of my closest friends from graduate school… She committed suicide in the middle of my time in graduate school. None of us had any idea that she was suffering. There wasn’t a space, the probably the acceptance for people to talk about these issues.”

They want leadership for California: 

  • Governor Newsom: “There’s a sense, a deep sense and desire I think for people to see real leadership in this space… This is as you say connects every one of us. So I just think the table is being set in a response to the anxieties that we’re feeling.”
  • Dr. Tom Insel, key advisor to Newsom: “One word, leadership. What California needs is leadership. It needs to have a plan, a strategy that says this is an important part of health care. For us to be successful, we have to get beyond the brick and mortar of our clinics and our hospitals. We do need to build up those resources, but we also need to move upstream, the way we’ve done in the rest of medicine.”
  • Senator Richard Pan: “I’m really looking forward to having leadership and administration around that. Certainly, through the legislature, I’m very interested in working with Insel and the Governor to say, “What are we going to do to pull together?” 
  • Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron: “I’ve been seven years in the legislature and we’re still talking about the same things and the access to care and lack of providers and the training and the certifications for new workforce for mental health.”

They believe in parity: 

  • Governor Newsom: “We need to treat brain health on par with physical health and… begin anew a conversation about an issue that impacts almost every other issue in the state of California and frame it as such with a sense of urgency that this issue requires.”
  • Senator Pan: “We do tend to think about mental health as separate from physical health, which is completely untrue… it’s supported by the body and so when you have problems with the function of the brain, you develop symptoms and there should be equal treatment but unfortunately, there’s often shame attached to that and there’s a different cultural context.”
  • Asm. Jim Wood:Well there is a divide. I think it’s important that people really realize that. Traditional medical insurances struggle with how to provide mental health care for people. These are not conditions that are easily treatable in the typical medical model.
  • Asm. Jim Frazier: “The mental health component should be treated just as much as cancer. It is a terminal disease and can be as impactful.”
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