Ending mental health stigma

By Supervisor Andrew Do

We need to have a frank discussion about mental health in our community. Each May during Mental Health Month, we, as a nation, come together to raise awareness about mental health; yet for far too long we have missed the opportunities to speak up, as individuals and communities. As mental health become more visible, the need for this dialogue is more important now than ever.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in 25 live with a serious mental illness. Further, only 44 percent of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20 percent of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. One of the main reasons people go untreated is the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Red flags indicating issues in children and adolescents’ mental health are often overlooked and dismissed. The unfortunate reality is that 50 percent of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75 percents begin before age 24 according to a report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In addition to this, approximately 50 percent of students age 14 and older with a mental illness will drop out of high school. This demonstrates the need for more early childhood mental health screenings and access to comprehensive support systems throughout a child’s education. We have also seen an 84 percent increase since 2008 in the hospitalization rate for children with serious mental illness according to the county’s own Conditions of Children report. These statistics are indicators that we need to be doing more for mental health. That is why locally the Orange County Health Care Agency has launched #UpliftOC to shine a spotlight on mental health because each mind matters.

Since assuming office a little more than two years ago, it has been a priority of mine to address our mental health needs. I serve on the county’s Mental Health Board and I have witnessed great strides toward addressing mental health in the county. Just this year, I voted to approve the addition of more Crisis Stabilization Units for children and adults. These facilities will provide medical beds for children and adults who are experiencing mental health crises that require supervision of a medical professional. For the past 36 years the county only had one CSU with 10 beds serving patients 18 and up exclusively. By providing more facilities to receive specialized care instead of visiting an emergency room, we can begin to more appropriately link patients with the necessary treatments to improve their quality of life, eventually facilitating a healthy transition into adulthood.

Mental health has also been addressed in our fight to end homelessness. The county has allocated $33 million to the pilot Whole Person Care project, which includes programs supporting mental health for those experiencing homelessness. Additionally, I’ve pushed for the opening of the Courtyard Transitional Center in Santa Ana and supported the fast-tracking of the Bridges at Kraemer Place in Anaheim, both of which include wrap-around services on-site, such as access to county mental health programs. Mental illness is among the most important root causes of why people become homeless in the first place. We will never be able to properly address homelessness in an integrated and comprehensive way unless we make mental health a cornerstone of our approach.

While continuing these efforts is a good starting point, it is crucial that we step up and #UpliftOC. So talk about mental health with your families, your neighbors, your friends and together let’s end the stigmatization of mental health. Let’s bridge the gap for those suffering from mental health issues. Let’s work together to address this need in the county, the United States and the world.

If you would like more information on mental health and how to #UpliftOC, please visit http://www.ochealthinfo.com/ to be connected to services that may help you or your loved ones.