California Forum

Mentally ill need full range of voluntary services

Leslie Morrison
Leslie Morrison

We agree with Editorial Page Editor Dan Morain’s view (“Mentally ill deserve more of our attention”; Forum, Oct. 5) that people with mental health disabilities need more care. We know that California can and must do a better job of providing access to mental health services.

Where we differ from Morain is how California’s counties can most effectively provide services. We believe, and studies show, that assisted-outpatient treatment will not guarantee those with mental illness receive the services they need. Rather, we want to ensure that counties offer a full range of voluntary mental health services, as required by law, before implementing assisted-outpatient treatment.

Such services, including full-service partnerships, crisis-response systems, peer support and supportive housing programs, have demonstrated success in reducing hospitalization, homelessness and incarceration, increasing access to critical services and wisely spending limited public funds.

We are pleased that Los Angeles County has decided to delay implementation of assisted-outpatient treatment. We plan to work with the county to resolve our concerns and are not pursuing litigation as suggested in Morain’s column.

Disability Rights California’s achievements are evidence of our commitment to making sure that people with mental health disabilities have access to a wide range of necessary services and supports. Annually, Disability Rights California provides assistance to more than 9,000 individuals with mental health disabilities on issues such as abuse and neglect, access to services and discrimination.

Our recent successful litigation ensured that more than 500,000 Californians with disabilities have access to outpatient mental health clinics, in-home support services and adult day center services, services cut by the governor.

Our investigations into squalid conditions at boarding homes resulted in several counties implementing coalitions to improve conditions; our investigation of dangerous seclusion and restraint practices led to life-saving reforms. We work to ensure that Californians with mental illness are free from abuse.

To that end, we sponsored legislation requiring that institutionalized patients who are victims of sexual assault receive independent medical examinations, and that critical abuse and neglect incidents be reported to outside law enforcement within two hours. Our review of the involvement of law enforcement in mental health crisis situations has led to a call for additional police officer training.

We want Californians to have access to and receive a broader array of voluntary, community-based mental health services and know that this will do much to eliminate the stigma and discrimination too often associated with mental health disabilities.

Leslie Napper is a mental health advocate and board member of Disability Rights California. Leslie Morrison is the director of the Disability Rights California investigations unit.