By Gavin Newsom
When it comes to healthcare in California, we for far too long have tolerated two different and unequal worlds. I don’t mean rural and urban. I don’t mean rich and poor. While both those dichotomies are true, I am talking about the fundamental differences in our approach to illness of the body and illness of the brain.
In any given year, one in four families in California deal with a mental health condition. An estimated one in 20 adults in the state are living with a serious brain illness. Each year, thousands of young Californians will experience their first psychotic break, enduring the terrifying delusions and hallucinations that are a hallmark of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and some forms of depression.
We all know someone, don’t we? Whether we’re living with brain illness ourselves, or it’s a spouse, a child, a sibling, a friend. And more often than not we’ve heard about their struggles to find quality care: the long wait times for appointments, and shift to cash-only psychiatrists; the shortage in licensed providers and crisis beds; limited insurance coverage; the punishing side effects of medications; the fear that a boss or colleague or neighbor will learn the truth and look at you differently.
Our system of mental healthcare in California falls short, not for lack of funding. We’ve done the right thing in this state: Thanks to the vision of Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, we passed a millionaire’s tax in 2004 that now funnels more than $2 billion a year into services. We fall short because we lack the bold leadership and strategic vision necessary to bring the most advanced forms of care to scale across the state. We lack the political will necessary to elevate brain illness as a top-tier priority. We lack the unity and fervor needed to rally the medical and research communities around an unyielding search for ever-better diagnosis and treatment.
We’re all living with the fallout.