Candidates must talk about mental health. A new coalition will make them.

The suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain are raising awareness about mental health.
The suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain are raising awareness about mental health. AP, Invision

The recent tragic suicides of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade have once again put a spotlight on an issue that too many of us are afraid to confront – behavioral health. And it’s important to focus on our own friends, family, co-workers and neighbors who struggle day in and day out with mental illness.


That is why we have formed a first-of-its-kind coalition, called Behavioral Health Action, to be launched at the state Capitol on Tuesday. More than 50 statewide organizations representing diverse viewpoints have joined together for a groundbreaking effort. We want to elevate the issue of behavioral health. We want to educate about what we need to do to address behavioral health challenges. And we want to innovate by thinking about mental health differently to come up with new kinds of solutions.

Sacramento County has more than 27,000 cases of mental illness cases involving children. Nearly one in six California adults has a mental health need, and one in 20 suffer from a serious mental illness, according to the California Health Care Foundation. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate in our country jumped 30 percent between 1999 and 2016. Nearly 58 million Americans, or one in four adults, experience a mental health disorder in a given year.

Carmela Coyle

We are more than overdue not just for conversation, but for action. Behavioral health issues affect virtually all of us in California; the most prevalent are mental illness and substance abuse. These challenges pose a widespread threat to our social and economic well-being.

The Behavioral Health Action coalition includes representatives of health care providers, law enforcement, education, labor, the court system, local government and business. The breadth of this group is unusual and powerful. Our goal is to cut through the clutter of competing priorities, and focus on common goals that include prevention and early intervention, crisis prevention and response, and workforce development and improvement.

Ultimately, the coalition’s goal is to engage and encourage the candidates for California governor and other statewide elected offices to make behavioral health a top priority.

Jessica Cruz

Behavioral health matters. That conviction is shared, not just by us, but by Californians statewide. According to a new poll from David Binder Research, more than 90 percent believe behavioral health is an important issue. Only 15 percent believe California is making progress to address mental illness. And nearly 90 percent agree it is important for candidates and elected leaders to do more to address behavioral health issues.

It is time for us to give behavioral health the same priority as physical health, and to engage our elected leaders in collectively developing innovative solutions. California’s future depends on it.

Carmela Coyle is president/CEO of the California Hospital Association and can be contacted at Jessica Cruz is CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, California, and can be contacted at