It’s been nearly one year since Lenny Mendonca, then Chief Economic and Business Advisor to Governor Gavin Newsom, announced his unexpected resignation. Later that summer, Mendonca penned an op-ed for CalMatters where he explained his decision to resign was tied to challenges he was experiencing with his behavioral health.
- Remind me: Mendonca’s story came at a particularly important time as it was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and many of us have experienced our own behavioral health challenges in the last year. His vulnerability provided a needed perspective and conversation among California’s leaders in the midst of the pandemic.
We sat down with Mendonca to hear more of his poignant story and what led him to writing the op-ed. Watch the interview above and find excerpts below.
Why he wrote the op-ed: “As I started to feel better and was out extending the people that I was telling the story, I decided to write on so that I could send it to people before I talked to them so that they would not be surprised when I talked to them. I got encouraged to edit it and share it more publicly. And I felt the need to try and help get the story out in my words, so I decided to write it with that encouragement and put it in CalMatters.”
On stigma: “At one level it felt like an experience that I had when I broke my leg mountain biking. It was an injury or an illness that you needed to get treated, and when I talk about mountain biking and breaking my leg and people can see it when they see you and it just felt like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. I hope you’re going to get better and everything will be fine.’ And in this case, people were more, ‘I don’t even know how to start the conversation.’ It felt much more to me like something that we should be talking about. It’s a health issue, just like anything else and if you can’t name it and talk about it, and have an open dialogue around what you’re doing to treat it, it’s not going to go anywhere.”
Mendonca’s advice for California’s leaders: “My experience, at least in the business world and in the high-powered professional world, whether that’s in government or in sports, it’s just still not a conversation that people have in anything other than very, very private and personal conversations. And so that just doesn’t seem like a good answer. And I think there were a number of people who have talked with me about trying to create a broader group of people who are out there saying ‘have that conversation’ and in senior positions to help encourage others to do it in the business world. And I think that’s a good idea.”
- His words for those experiencing challenges: “My advice is really just have the conversation. I mean being able to, in a safe space with people that are trying to deal with these challenges in a constructive way as opposed to brushing it off or saying ‘tough it out.'”
His experience with California’s behavioral health system: “If mine was any indication, it felt like it required an advocate on your behalf to navigate the system. I was fortunate to have great health coverage. So it was less the affordability than it was access to the right kind of treatment. And fortunately, I did have that in my wife and other family members and friends who were helping navigate the system. But without that, I don’t know how someone who’s got a real challenge figures out and works their way through this even if they’re fortunate enough to have good coverage.”
The solution: “As I said, when I broke my leg, it was pretty obvious that I needed to go to the hospital and have an x-ray and figure out what to do about it. In this circumstance that wasn’t at all obvious to me, certainly. It was more obvious to people who knew how to recognize it… So ensuring that we have the ability to have the conversation, have coverage and have access to high quality longer-term care to deal with these issues to me feels like the right thing to do.”