Mental Health Needs High, Treatment Low

About two million Californians are under stress and need some kind of mental health care — and are not getting the help they need, according to a UCLA study released yesterday.

“There are a lot of people with mental health needs, and they aren’t getting adequate care,” UCLA researcher David Grant said. “Men are less likely to seek and receive the care they need, and immigrants definitely aren’t getting their care needs met. And even native-born Latinos and Asians are unlikely to seek treatment, so that’s a definite target for the state to consider.”

The report from the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research is based on 2007 data from the California Health Interview Survey.

Along with a dearth of care for men, immigrants and minority groups, there is a large barrier to care for people without health insurance, Grant said.

With passage of Proposition 63 — the Mental Health Services Act — in 2004, California has a significant auxiliary fund for mental health issues. Implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014 might expand the ability of lower-income Californians to get mental health care, Grant said.

“But even when they have health insurance, people don’t always get the care they need,” Grant said. “One thing that would help is to reduce the stigma around services and treatment.” That’s true for everyone, but is a particular problem in ethnic communities, Grant said.

“One of the best things to happen was when [Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball player] Ron Artest won the NBA championship — instead of thanking God, he said he wanted to thank his therapist.”

Grant said his example is a little tongue-in-cheek, “but those kinds of issues make a difference,” he said. “There has certainly been movement in mental health issues, but we have a long way to go.”

In terms of California health policy, he said, the state spends a lot of money on people with multiple chronic health conditions — and in the report, it became clear that’s one place where mental health treatment could make a big financial difference, Grant said.

“When we look at people with mental health needs, we see a lot of co-morbidity. People with heart disease, obesity, asthma, and that’s really expensive for the state,” Grant said. “Many of them have a mental health disorder, as well, that’s keeping them from getting proper treatment for everything else. So that’s one place where it could really have a real impact, in terms of the financial requirement for the state in treating mental health issues.”

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