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Legislature must not slight seniors in mental health money

Advocates for Mentally Ill Housing Inc. case managers help Egbert Visker settle into his new bedroom in Auburn in November 2017.
Advocates for Mentally Ill Housing Inc. case managers help Egbert Visker settle into his new bedroom in Auburn in November 2017. Sacramento Bee file

An important measure to expand access to mental health care services in California is going through the Legislature, but it would make it more difficult for counties to serve older adults.

Senate Bill 1004, which was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on June 19, would amend Proposition 63, passed by voters in 2004 to provide funding for county mental health services with a 1 percent tax on annual incomes of more than $1 million.

Sens. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who introduced SB 1004, appear to be at odds with the needs of older adults because the bill shifts the focus of the Mental Health Services Act primarily to young people.

Opinion

The bill says that 75 percent of mental illnesses begin by 14 years of age, citing a study showing the relationship between early trauma and life-long problems.

But we should not lose sight of our seniors.

Cheryl Brown new.jpg
Cheryl Brown

Most of them grew up when mental health problems were less understood, diagnosed or appropriately treated. As a result, many tend to shy away from mental health services. Yet adults between 45 and 64 old are at the highest risk for suicide nationally, and in recent years California’s suicide rate among adults 65 and older has been higher than the national average.

The senior community believes that SB 1004 should also address the mental health needs of seniors as much MHSA money remains unspent. The California Commission on Aging offered amendments stressing that older adults are also at risk of anxiety depression, anxiety, psychological traumas and suicide.

Sadly, the Assembly Health Committee did not consider the amendments. As a result, the Commission on Aging opposes SB 1004 because it would make it more difficult for seniors to secure the mental health services they need.

Cheryl Brown is a member of the California Commission on Aging and former chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care. She can be contacted at cheryl1242@gmail.com.

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