California's voter-approved mental health services can serve as a model for the rest of the nation, says the leader of the state Senate in the wake of the Connecticut school mass shooting.
"Mental illness is the unspoken issue of our time," said Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, in a Thursday news conference where he called for new federal matching funds for states that offer a broad array of mental health programs.
Steinberg wrote 2004's Proposition 63 millionaires tax, an income tax surcharge that's earmarked for mental health services. On Thursday, he sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden (PDF), calling on the new gun violence task force to consider matching states dollar for dollar on mental health funding similar to Prop 63.
"It should not take such a tragedy," he said in a state Capitol news conference, "to spark a conversation on mental health."
Advocates clearly sense the double edged sword of publicity in the wake of the Connecticut murders: the possibility of yet more stigma for those in need (even as investigators cannot yet say whether the gunman suffered from mental health problems), but also the chance to shine a light on services available... and the needs unmet.
"There's a growing body of evidence that suggests that the best outcomes from treatment are when the treatment is made at the very earliest stage," said Dr. Cameron Carter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UC Davis Medical Center.
Advocates point out that there's no defined correlation between violent behavior and mental illness, but urge those in need of mental health services, as well as friends and family of those in need, to get help.
Resources For Those Who Need Mental Health Help
24 Hour Crisis Intervention Phone Numbers (PDF)
California Mental Health Resources website
National Suicide Prevention Hotline
National Alliance on Mental Illness: California chapter