Mental Health Issues and Poverty
By Frank Topping

Here’s a snapshot in overview form of some of the most important items affecting our homeless population with serious mental illness in the Sacramento area.

Police and Sheriff’s Deputy Training For Interfacing with Persons With Serious Mental Illness - Mental Health America of Northern California, the National Alliance for Mental Illness, Sacramento Chapter and Sacramento County Health and Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health Services, many excellent volunteers from the MHSA Speaker’s Bureau and others have teamed up to help provide training for all officers and deputies in Sacramento County on what mental illness is, what the suffering is like, how to diffuse tense situations before they escalate and help give officers real tools like knowledge of techniques like Mental Health First Aid and a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).

Mental Health Treatment for Homeless Youth - Recent attention focused on the terribly high rate of suicides of youth in the LBGTQ Community, particularly our homeless LBGTQ youth or those who may have run away from home, has prompted legislation enabling many mental health services and counseling to be offered to youth confidentially, without parental awareness, since family rejection or ostracism may be an issue.

Mental Health Court - We have turned our prisons into de facto asylums providing almost zero treatment for mental illness with devastating results. The economic costs are far higher, the human cost and that to families and our communities is terrible, sending recidivism, as you might expect, is through the roof. Mental health courts, drug courts and veteran’s courts (one is being discussed for possible Sacramento County implementation) each attempt to focus on providing appropriate treatments where possible instead of knee-jerk incarceration -- always the highest financial costs to the community with dismal social return. Reducing recidivism is how you prove to be really “tough on crime”.

AB 109 Post Release Community Support -- (PRCS) Individuals and Parolees - The PRCS returnees desperately need support after their release for employment, counseling, medications, treatment and housing if we are to succeed in reducing recidivism and breaking the prisoner over-population logjam -- but AB109 funds should be used.

The Rewrite of the Lanterman Petris Short Act (LPS) - Does the “term” 5150 ring a bell? Right. That’s part of the LPS Act – the part they use to lock you up for cases of mental illness beyond a certain depth of debilitation. Actually, the law is flawed to the extent that it’s interpreted differently by different counties, even different cities in the same county. As it is, patients can find themselves strapped to gurneys in hallways outside of hospital ERs for days.

Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- Mental Health Parity - The ACA has stipulated differences as to how mental health and substance use disorder services are covered – they’ll now be covered “at parity” or similar to medical or surgical procedure coverage making a real difference for individual and small group insurance.

Remember, your own experiences, especially on homelessness and mental illness give a totally unique insight policy makers, officers and clinicians absolutely cannot get in any other way. As Secretary of the Sacramento County Mental Health Board (MHB), Vice-Chair of the Sacramento County Disability Advisory Commission (DAC), a member of the Sacramento County Human Services Coordinating Council (HSCC), a member of the Sacramento County Mental Health Services Act Steering Committee and as a Director of the 20 county Central Region, California Association of Local Mental Health Boards & Commissions (CALM Board) I often get the opportunity to weigh in on issues early since I was also homeless and suffering from mental illness and drug & alcohol addiction. By getting involved you too can help make a real difference! ...don’t like the way a visit to the mental health treatment center went or how you’ve been treated by service providers? ...your opinion could make a real difference.