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About Mental Health

More than a million Californians suffering from severe mental illness go untreated.

Twenty California counties have adopted a 2002 law permitting more assertive care of several mentally ill people. Most report enrollees spend fewer days in jail, psychiatric hospitals, and on the streets, the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center has found.

  • California is “off to a promising start,” but is “leaving some powerful tools on the table,” The Orange County Register writes, reporting on the analysis. 

Under “Laura’s Law,” counties can petition judges to direct severely mentally ill people to obtain intensive treatment. But counties are not obligated to implement the law, and most have not done so.

  • The law was named for Laura Wilcox, a 19-year college sophomore from who was shot and killed in 2001 during Christmas break while she worked for the Nevada County behavioral health department. The shooter, Scott Thorpe, was receiving counseling there, and now is housed at Napa State Hospital.

The Treatment Advocacy Center, a proponent of more intensive care for severely mentally ill people, notes that half of the more than 1 million Californians suffering from severe mental illness go untreated on any given day.

The report found:

  • Psychiatric hospitalizations decreased significantly among individuals enrolled in eight Laura’s Law programs out of the 10 counties with outcome data.
  • Police contracts were reduced with Laura’s Law enrollees in nine of the 10 programs.
  • Homelessness decreased significantly in six out of seven programs.

The report calls on the state to make several improvements, including requiring uniform data reporting. Gov. Gavin Newsom has said improved mental health care is among his highest priorities.

Waiting for mental health care

For those seeking outpatient mental healthcare, long waits are common.

Psychiatric patients in California’s 10 largest counties waited 38.4 days between the time they were released from hospitals to receive some outpatient care, according to data compiled by the consulting group, California Health Policy Strategies.

  • In Los Angeles County, the mean number of days between discharge and outpatient care was 53.3. In San Diego, the number was 37.1. In Orange County, patients received outpatient care within 24.3 days.

David Panush, the consulting group’s president, who focused on health-related issues during a 35-year career in the state Senate: “This is the group with the most severe problems imaginable. … If our systems are not structured in a way for them to get care when they leave hospitals, that’s a recipe for trouble.”

The consulting group, which advises the California Healthcare Foundation, Blue Shield local governments and others, compiled most of the information from public sources, and placed the data in this dashboard reflecting key indicators of mental health care.

Other findings:

  • More than 50 percent of adult psychiatric patients in the large counties received care within seven days of discharge, and 64 percent of youths did.
  • Twenty percent of jail inmates in the large counties receive psychiatric medication in 2016-17, up from 16 percent in 2012-13.

This new report from CALmatters (the full newsletter is below this report):