MENTAL HEALTH: Satcher, General Assembly Turn to Issue
Surgeon General David Satcher called attention to mental health Friday at a meeting of California psychiatrists, announcing that in two months he will release the first Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, which will outline a national public policy on mental illness. "Just as things go wrong with the heart and the kidneys, things go wrong with the brain, and there should be no shame in that," Satcher told attendees at the annual meeting of the Northern California Psychiatric Society in Santa Rosa. Since taking up the issue one year ago, Satcher said, he has received an "enthusiastic response" from almost every audience (Fricker, Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, 4/17).
It's Not Enough
Two mental health bills under consideration in the General Assembly have the potential to reverse the unintended consequences of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act of 1969, according to an editorial in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle. That act was intended to end "warehousing" and "arbitrary commitments" of mental patients to state facilities, but the result, as then-Assemblyman and sponsor Frank Lanterman puts it, was to "prevent those who need care from receiving it" by making it "exceedingly difficult to hold even those with a long history of mental illness against their will or to require them to take medication." Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg's (D-Sacramento) AB 34 would funnel $350 million into community-based mental health programs, "which could go a long way toward getting people off the streets and preventing them from going to jail." The editorial states it is estimated that some 40% of Californians with mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder "do not seek treatment." Nearly 20,000 mentally ill Californians are in jail and an equal number are homeless, the piece says. The second measure, AB 88, sponsored by Assemblywoman Helen Thomson (D-Davis), would require mental health parity for people with severe, biologically-based mental illness. Although both measures would "improve the system," the editorial states, Gov. Gray Davis must jump in the fray in order to bring "long-term positive change." In addition, the piece says, the "Legislature also must address the inadequacy of laws to treat people who do not wish to be treated. ... Even when a patient can be held for treatment, state laws and regulations make it almost impossible to require that medication be taken without the patient's consent." Armed with a 73-page report, Thomson plans to tackle the involuntary commitment issue as soon as her parity bill clears the Legislature. The editorial concludes, "A look inside California's prisons or on city streets vividly illustrates the dangers of a misguided mental health policy. Change is overdue" (4/18).