We Can Break Down Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

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When we talk about our public health heroes and expanding our workforce, we don’t just mean our doctors and nurses. Our workforce includes important mental health physicians like Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT), psychiatrists, psychologists, and more. 

Our mental health workforce is sometimes the first point of contact for people across the state who are experiencing a crisis. From anxiety to depression to grief, to racism, sexism, and hate crimes, communities across California are facing so much upheaval during this ongoing pandemic.

A budget request by the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, supported by over 60 groups is something the legislature and administration can do right now. It would require Medi-Cal managed care plans to have culturally and linguistically relevant outreach materials for members to inform Medi-Cal members of their right to timely mental health services, how to find a provider, and how to navigate mental health services.

Last year, in a poll conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NAMI National, they found that communities of color have experienced increased difficulty in accessing treatment. The struggle to get treatment and support was greatest for Hispanic people in particular — 70% reported that there had been a time in their life when they wanted mental health treatment but did not receive it, compared to 58% of Black people, 55% of Asian people and 54% of white people.

One in five Medi-Cal members will experience mental health need in their lifetime. With Medi-Cal serving over 14 million people, that means nearly 3 million people enrolled in our states’ low cost or free health insurance will need mental health help.

As noted in NAMI-CA’s most recent State of the Communities report, which includes responses from multiple focus groups: “Mental health symptoms may go untreated due to cultural stigma, fear of discrimination, lack of understanding, lack of culturally appropriate care, etc.” Culturally and linguistically concordant providers will go a long way in ensuring people feel treated with care and feel seen and heard.

Take for instance, Jess’s story. When they went to find a mental health provider, the Medi-Cal directory was confusing, demoralizing, and isolating. Finding a mental health provider through their local Medi-Cal managed care plan was not an intuitive process—the search engine to find behavioral health services was on a completely different website that was not listed on the Medi-Cal directory or the insurance’s directory. They did not know, nor had immediate access to a health navigator or a help hotline. And, even when they found a therapist, they did not feel empowered to contact the therapist, because they felt deeply uncomfortable navigating a search engine that required them to misgender themselves constantly. No wonder people don’t want to return!

Everyone deserves respectful care for their mental health needs. This budget request will ensure Medi-Cal managed care plans do culturally and linguistically relevant outreach to members and educate members on their rights, timely access to services, and mental health parity.

Written in collaboration with NAMI CA and API Equality-LA