Divided by boundaries, mental health treatment suffers in California

Divided by boundaries, mental health treatment suffers in California

Case 1 in Sonoma County, California: 20-year-old Christy McDonald suffered her first bout of psychosis in January 2019. Confused and unable to handle her emotions, she locked herself in her room for 4 days straight. Eventually she went into a state of unresponsive stupor. Jim McDonald, her father, immediately rushed her to a local hospital. While surfing the internet, he came across a wonderful program for young adults experiencing the first phase of psychosis. However, there was a problem – the program was not available in Sonoma County. The reason was that mental health treatment centers in her county offered programs in accordance with the insurance rules applicable there.

Case 2 in San Diego County, California: Romeo Banks started hearing demonic voices at the age of 12. He started attending a special program for adolescents dealing with psychosis. He was lucky that the program which offered occupational and personal therapy along with medication and mindfulness was available in his county. Now aged 15, he is living a more managed and normal life.

The primary difference between the two cases sighted above was the availability of relevant mental health treatment programs in a patient’s county. Unfortunately, all the 58 counties of California have different public mental health programs with their own set of insurance rules that facilitate offering of only certain types of mental health treatment programs. It is very disheartening and worrisome to see that geography might create obstacles for patients from getting early psychosis treatment as well as other mental health treatments.

Lines of control

Dr. Tom Insel, mental health advisor to the state of California and former director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) compared the current system to playing the piano with 58 fingers. Questioning the motive behind such schemes, he said that the main problem was that there was no fundamental leadership, with each scheme being different from the other. He went on to add that the state of California did not offer proper guidance and accuracy to guarantee impartial access to mental health treatment thereby missing the chance to offer the best of practices from the different counties.

Talking about the mental health care services in California, Carmela Coyle, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of California Hospital Association said that if one took a road journey from southern California to northern California, they would find a different service each time they stepped out to fill gas or have food. She further added that this difference was unjust.

Need for an integrated system

McDonald was lucky. After her insurer declined to pay for her treatment terming it as outside services or even provide a referral, her father decided to take matter in his own hands. He drove her every week to a treatment center for mental health in Sacramento which provided early psychosis intervention programs specially designed for young adults. However, not everyone is so lucky.

According to Bill Carter, mental health director, Sonoma County, his topmost priority is to bring an early psychosis program into his county. He said that mental health illnesses have the potential to ruin a person’s life, hence it was important that every resident received treatment, regardless of insurance.

Currently, only 24 counties in California have early psychosis intervention programs. Due to lack of funds and also due to lack of insurance or different type of coverage schemes offered by different providers, it is not possible to provide treatment for all county residents on equal terms.

The optimistic side

In recent years, this problem has come to the fore and the U.S. federal government has started allocating 10 percent of the states’ Community Mental Health Block Grants for psychosis treatment programs since 2016. In California, this amounts to $ 9.5 million. In 2019, policymakers further proposed an extra $20 million for early psychosis treatment programs in California’s budget.

According to a recent study, patients who receive early treatment for psychosis experienced fewer symptoms for longer as compared to patients who did not receive timely intervention. Many experts and mental health care providers have said that early psychosis intervention programs increase the effectiveness of the treatment process. These programs include psychiatric treatment, intensive counselling, family and peer support therapies along with close coordination with highly skilled health care providers.

Treatment for mental health

According to official reports, about 100,000 teens and young adults experience symptoms of first degree psychosis every year in the U.S. and 3 out of 100 people experience or are likely to experience it at some time in their lives. Psychosis is not a mental health illness in itself, but may be an indication of the presence of a mental health illness.

If you or your loved one is suffering from mental illnesses, contact the California Mental Health Helpline. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855-559-3923 to gain access to details of mental health treatment centers in California. You can even chat online with one of our trained representatives to know more about residential mental health facilities in California, the kind of programs they offer, and the most suitable program for you.