Steinberg Institute’s top 10 mental health acronyms you need to know

California State of Mind Essentials

By Amanda Cruz

Whether you’re a veteran mental health advocate or a newly inducted legislative staffer, keeping track of all the acronyms used in mental health policies and legislation can get overwhelming. So, we’re here to help reduce the number of times you have to google what “BHCIP” (pronounced BEE-CHIP despite its spelling) is. Or you’re left wondering whether when someone say’s “CSU” in a conversation about mental health crises if they’re talking about a California State University. Spoiler alert: they aren’t.

These are the top 10 mental health acronyms we want you to know as we enter another legislative session. Be sure to stay until the end for a helpful list of glossaries from various California departments and mental health organizations that you can keep for future reference.

1. ACT

Assertive Community Treatment is an evidence-based service model consisting of a multi-disciplinary team providing intensive services to people with serious mental illnesses and/or a co-occurring substance use disorder.


Behavioral Health Continuum Infrastructure Program is a program established by California’s Department of Healthcare Services to distribute $2.2 billion to construct, acquire, and expand properties and invest in mobile crisis infrastructure related to behavioral health.

3. CSU

Crisis Stabilization Unit is a 24/7 facility providing crisis intervention and stabilization to prevent hospitalization of a client in a mental health crisis.

4. CSC

Coordinated Specialty Care is an evidence-based model of care where clients work with care providers to develop their treatment plan.


The Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative is an initiative from the Budget Act of 2021 investing in efforts that promote the social and emotional well-being, preventing behavioral health challenges, and providing equitable, appropriate, timely, and accessible services for emerging and existing mental health and substance use needs for children and youth ages 0–25

6. FSP

Full Service Partnership is a comprehensive approach to providing mental health care to clients with severe or persistent mental illness, by ensuring all of their health needs are met. This can include outreach, housing, case management, transportation and more.

7. PEI

Prevention and Early Intervention focuses on providing services that reduces the risk of serious mental illness or substance abuse disorders by intervening in early childhood.


Specialty Mental Health Services is a Medi-Cal waiver that provides mental health services to Medi-Cal users through county health plans

9. SMI

Serious Mental Illness is defined as one or more mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities

10. SUD

Substance Use Disorders is a mental health condition that causes uncontrolled use of substances such as alcohol or drugs, often interfering with one’s daily life

It’s important to note that the term “behavioral health” is widely used in public policy and public mental health services to encompass serious mental illness and substance use disorders under one umbrella. At the Steinberg Institute, we avoid the term “behavioral health” as it implies that people living with these conditions have a choice in whether they develop them, but the term is still used in legislation.

Now that you know the most important mental health policy acronyms, it’s time to test your knowledge.

Bonus Acronyms

Here are a few widely used acronyms you should keep handy,

CalAIM-​California Advancing and​ Innovating Medi-Cal

DHCS-Department of Healthcare Services

IST-Incompetent to Stand Trial

IMD– Institution for Mental Disease Facility

LPS-Lanterman Petris Short Act

MHSA-Mental Health Services Act

MHSOAC/OAC-Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission

Glossaries to check when you hear a new acronym you don’t know

You’ve tested your knowledge, and now you’re a mental health acronym expert, but even we need some help keeping track. So here are a few easy-to-navigate glossaries.

Common Mental Health Services Act Acronyms – Santa Clara County

Statewide Prevention and Early Intervention Initiative Glossary of Acronyms – CalMHSA

Glossary of Mental Health System Acronyms – California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations

Specialty Mental Health Services Medi-Cal Billing Manual – Department of Healthcare Services


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