California’s mental health care system has been dysfunctional for decades and has been described as “struggling” and “broken”. This reality has been brought into sharp relief, especially with respect to racial and economic inequities, as a result of the population-wide traumatic experiences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and uprisings against systemic racism. In Los Angeles County, we can see clear consequences of the lack of access to mental health prevention and treatment services and its disproportionate impact on African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American, Pacific Islander and other communities without resources.
“Even if you’re in Los Angeles and that person was murdered in Minnesota, it has a real impact on you either way because you identify with that person. And so there is a community trauma that has been going on for generations that needs to be talked about and needs to be approached. And maybe the answer is a community approach, because it is a community shared experience.”
Impacts of COVID-19 on Mental Health in Los Angeles County
The recent and highly publicized police killings of unarmed Black persons illustrate a specific aspect of social stress that appears to have a particular impact on African Americans. Apart from the specific families experiencing these traumas, these deaths have significant spillover effects on the mental health of African Americans. In a population-based, quasi-experimental study published in the Lancet, researchers found that police killings of unarmed African Americans and unarmed whites had a significant effect in increasing the number of days African American respondents reported being in poor mental health (Bor et al. 2018). Interestingly, there is no effect on the mental health of white respondents, even when the unarmed victims are white.
We must develop culturally responsive interventions to improve wellbeing at individual and community levels within all community ecosystems, such as educational, faith-based and health care environments.
out of every 20 Angelenos suffer from a serious mental illness (Technical Assistance Collaborative and Human Services Research Institute 2012).
- 25% 25%
On average Americans with untreated, serious mental illnesses, have a life expectancy 25 years shorter than the general population.
- 25% 25%
Over 30 percent of California prisoners are diagnosed with a serious mental disorder and about one third of people experiencing homelessness across the county have a serious mental illness.
- 30% 30%
6 Mental Health Policy Recommendations
The report puts forward 6 recommendations for policy and practical action.
Flexible funding is available to include reimbursement for paraprofessionals (peer providers) as a way to spread mental health knowledge and interventions, engage individuals at risk, and expand mental health services.
Provide education on specific mental health risk factors which is readily accessible to all. This includes providing information in languages that are native to the targeted community, which are culturally appropriate and take into account different levels of formal education.
Provide on-going training for professionals and para-professionals which supports their educational development and helps them evolve in terms of racial, cultural, and other socio-political factors impacting the communities within which they work.
Develop multiple access platforms wherein this educational material may be accessed (e.g., on-line, in-person)
Use Public Health Critical Race Praxis (PHCRP) to promote racial equity in public health research, policy development, and advocacy -Support the LACDMH + UCLA Public Partnership for Wellbeing
Build a Community Ambassador Network
Our Streets Our Stories
“We need to have systems put in place to help with the mental health of our community. The restructuring that our population has had to go through has taken a toll mentally, and you can see it everywhere. It’s like this little dark cloud over our seat. So, there needs to be some mental health services to get us through these times and push us forward.”