Increase Mental Healthcare Practitioners by 2025

Recently the lack of mental healthcare options in this country has become a political talking point trotted out in the aftermath of tragic episodes of violence. But it is a very real issue for Americans in every corner of our country, and so far nothing has been done to fix the problem. Instead, the system has been allowed to get to a point where only 37% of adults in California who have a mental illness were able to get treatment within the last year. According to a 2018 report by UC San Francisco, “roughly 1 in 6 California adults experience mental illness, and threats of deportation, recurring mass violence and financial downturn may be increasing the need.” Clearly, this is a time when Californians will need mental healthcare more than ever – but because of the state’s negligence, if our leaders do not take drastic action, by the year 2028 we will have 41% fewer psychiatrists than needed.

The urgent necessity to increase the availability of mental healthcare cannot be overstated – from the first responders and active servicemembers who often suffer from PTSD and anxiety; to the countless women struggling with postpartum depression; to the families who desperately need counselors in schools to help them address increasing rates of teen suicide, eating disorders and violent behavior; to the communities dealing with untreated trauma predisposing them to lives marked by alcoholism and addiction. The consequences of not treating these problems touches everyone.

But instead of expanding mental health services, jails and prisons have become the way California leaders deal with people suffering from mental illness. A 2015 Stanford Law School report reported that over the past 15 years, the number of mentally ill people in prison in this state has almost doubled, and that 45% of state prison inmates had been treated for severe mental illness within the last year. The Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles alone is home to 4,000 mentally ill prisoners. The jail’s population has increased by half over the last several years, “with nearly every inmate having both mental illness and substance abuse problems.” It is highly disturbing that this state’s mental health providers are its jails and prisons.

As Insurance Commissioner, Dr. Mahmood will implement a two-pronged strategy to address the problem by 2025. The first is to fix the dwindling pipeline of students getting into the field in the first place. The number of medical students picking a psychiatric specialty remains in the single digits. What’s more, only 4% of psychiatrists are Latino and 2% are African American. A smart place to start this effort would be to increase stipends for students in these fields, create mentorship and peer-to-peer programs, and grant awards for programs that put a premium on attracting students of color. Secondly, Dr. Mahmood will insure that we are addressing the dearth of practitioners currently practicing in the field, and the reality that most of them are concentrated in urban areas. To do this, he will employ the technological advances that California is known for and create telehealth programs so that a professional in Los Angeles can work with patients in the Central Valley, thereby extending a doctor’s ability to reach a patient in need and lessening the impact of geographic bias.