Mental Health Month Guest Blog Post by Asm. Jim Wood

May 25, 2021

Guest blog post written by Asm. Jim Wood

For me, Mental Health Awareness Month is every month, and every day. Why am I so dedicated to my work on mental health? It doesn’t take being a health care practitioner to know how important good mental health is. It is no less important to everyone than their heart, their brain and their breathing.

I was a family dentist for 30 years in the small, rural community of Cloverdale and through my practice, I met so many people from every possible background and followed their generations as they grew up and aged. It’s a great way to learn the pulse of a community through hearing about their struggles and triumphs.

I am also a certified forensic odontologist (dentist) and have been called to help identify victims of many disasters including 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and, too close to home, the devastating wildfires in the North Bay and Paradise. Being a part of those recovery efforts has brought me together with many first responders, local officials, families and friends who have suffered trauma, anxiety and stress. Many did not realize how deeply they were affected, thinking it was just temporary. But then later, even months later, whenever they saw or smelled smoke in their neighborhood, or heard of a fire far from them, the fear and anxiety returned.

If all of that wasn’t enough to develop a passion for mental health issues, I’ve learned so much by representing a widespread rural district encompassing five counties. Our communities have scarce services on many levels and being able to access mental health care is one of them.

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and I watched, feeling mostly helpless, the increasing effects of loneliness, isolation, sickness, unemployment, business closures, and death. COVID has affected all of us, and it has made those already suffering with mental health issues even more vulnerable – more anxious, more lonely, and more depressed.

No one should feel alone in their struggles. No one should be afraid to ask for help. No one should be ashamed for the way they feel. And no one should have no one to turn to. We have to make sure that help is available for anyone who seeks it and that resources exist so their families, friends and employers can be supportive.

Our youth have been hit hard in this pandemic. It’s a time in their lives where friendship and social engagement are key to a healthy and joyful life. They have been confined to their homes, and sometimes those homes were not safe and loving environments to begin with. We need to ensure that schools have mental and behavioral health professionals available to help identify youth who need help early, not after the fact. This means that partnerships with community-based organizations are essential.

Physical abuse of all forms has increased during this pandemic and our ability to interact with other family members and friends outside the home has made it more difficult for those being abused to reach out and for others to recognize signs of abuse.

Drug and alcohol and other substance use disorders can destroy families, affect their children and can lead to homelessness. When addressing California’s homeless challenges, we must provide not just housing, but the wraparound services people need to be successful, and many of those supportive services include mental health care.

The challenges are great and I, and many of my colleagues, have worked hard to address them.

Since being elected in 2014, I have worked to help my colleagues recognize the importance of providing mental health services and ensuring that mental health is valued as much as physical health, and that reimbursement policies are sound. I have passed legislation and fought for state budget funding to support mental and behavioral health.

I began my first legislative session with a bill that expands the types of mental health providers who can provide services to minors 12 years and older. Another bill allows federally qualified health centers and rural health centers to be able to bill for services provided by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, something that previously had not been allowed.

In my second legislative session, one of my bills ensures that a naloxone prescription is offered to patients whenever they are prescribed an opioid ensure that life-saving access to naloxone is available to give a person a chance to receive treatment and be successful in recovery. I also created an e-prescription requirement for opioid prescriptions that reduces medication errors, prescription fraud and “doctor shopping.” And because rural communities often have a shortage of mental health care providers, I had another bill that allows Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors to the list of eligible providers who can act as a second signatory to extend involuntary commitments.

In my third legislative session, I focused on expanding subsidies and tax credits for health care coverage through Covered California, and although not solely about mental health, the plans available through the Affordable Care Act include mental health services and it is important to make them as affordable as possible.

This legislative session I have focused on supporting the use of telehealth to improve access to mental health services. Telehealth, when used appropriately, can be a lifeline for people seeking crisis and ongoing care. I’m also carrying legislation to make innovative improvements to the Medi-Cal program through the Governor’s CalAIM recommendations, including ensuring the timely provision of mental health and substance abuse disorder services to Medi-Cal beneficiaries. My goals are to increase access, reduce administrative burdens and provide greater financing certainty to the program.

Everyone thrives in loving, healthy, safe communities and making everyone aware of the importance of mental health and access to mental health services are key to living healthy and fulfilling lives. My commitment to improve and expand these services continues.

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