May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Imagine having a tooth ache but waiting six to eight years before going to a dentist to stop the pain. That’s how some therapists describe mental illnesses that fester for years while left untreated.

Every year, tens of thousands of Californians struggle to find the proper mental health services or simply don’t seek help to avoid stigmas that are attached. With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, many advocacy groups are pushing for more access to treatment and prevention education.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, 50 percent of mental illnesses begin at age 14 and 75 percent by age 24. Yet two-thirds of California adults and two-thirds of children with a mental illness do not receive treatment, according to a March 2018 study conducted by the California Health Care Foundation (CHCF). One out of every six Californians has a mental health issue with lower-income individuals being at the top of the list. Access to care in California is minimal. Those living in areas with the greatest need have the least access to providers, according to CHCF. Stigma also plays a big role in hiding mental health symptoms. Nine out of every 10 Californians report they have experienced discrimination after revealing their mental health struggles.

According to a U.S. government study, California was short 433 mental health providers in 2018. That number is projected to climb somewhere between 729 and 1,848 by 2025. An aging workforce, low rates of reimbursement, burnout, red tape, and excessive paperwork are some reasons practitioners cited for the shortage.

While there’s no quick fix to the growing mental health crisis, many are pushing for a big change. A statewide coalition of mental health professionals called “California Children’s Trust” are advocating for a major overhaul of California’s mental health care system for children and teens. Their comprehensive plan includes focusing on prevention and detecting mental health problems early on. Advocates suggest mental health check-ups be included with every physical exam.

Providing better access to mental health care is also on the advocate wish list. They’re pushing lawmakers to create more housing, supply communities with greater mental health resources, and loosen conservatorship regulations to help chronically homeless individuals suffering from mental illness or substance abuse.

If you do decide to find help for a mental illness and find a marriage and family therapist, clinical social worker, clinical counselor or psychologist, you can check to see if they have a valid license by visiting the California Board of Behavioral Sciences at https://www.bbs.ca.gov/ or the California Board of Psychology at https://www.psychology.ca.gov/.

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