I’m not afraid of blood. Poverty makes me sad and mad, but I’m not afraid of it. But mental illness is another story.
With proper treatment, bleeding can be stopped. If we allocated more resources, poverty could be reduced or eliminated. But when someone’s mind is not functioning, the path to a solution seems more obscure.
For years, I have received long, handwritten letters addressed to me at SN&R from people I assume suffered from mental illness. These letters went on for pages and were typically unintelligible. They were often somewhat threatening and always disturbing. I finally just started putting them in a drawer, unread. I did not know what to do.
Then Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg called.
Steinberg, the author of Proposition 63, the Mental Health Services Act, wanted me to understand the impact of his proposition, which levies a 1 percent tax on California’s millionaires. Currently, 25 percent of this money goes to early intervention and prevention but Steinberg told me that, over time, he would like to increase the amount of funding for these areas, where he believes the dollars can have the greatest impact.
Preparing for my interview with him a few weeks back, I did some reading and talked with the directors of local mental-health organizations. This was really eye-opening for me.
Pat Ryan, the executive director of the California Mental Health Directors Association, told me that most schizophrenics usually have their first episode in their late teens or early 20s. The key is getting them into treatment right away. Without treatment, the episodes get much worse and their lives can spiral downward. That’s why programs that intervene early, like the ones on college campuses, are key.
And recently, I have met and talked to quite a few people whose lives have been impacted by mental illness. An SN&R client told me about her nephew and niece, both who had schizophrenia. One is doing well, and the other is being released from an institution after he shot his mom and himself. Would early intervention have made a difference in his life? Maybe.
My daughter is away at college. It’s an academic pressure cooker, and drugs are everywhere. Thank goodness there are programs there to help.
Steinberg and Ryan have a simple message. What if we accepted that as many as 25 percent of adults suffer from mental illness? And what if we provided support to those who needed it? How many lives could we save?
Hopefully, the funds raised by Proposition 63 will not only save lives, but also save us tax dollars due to fewer hospitalizations and less jail time. Early intervention can make a difference. I know I’ve now heard this message, loud and clear.