3-year, $25M city mental health program to consider public input

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The city issued a press release Thursday asking for the community’s assistance in constructing a three-year plan to bolster mental health services in the city.

The plan will increase early prevention and wellness services by focusing on outreach, assessment and treatment for populations from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and of all ages.

“Reaching out to people where they are at is critical,”  said City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “You can’t sit around the office and wait for people to come to you. You got to go to the community.”

According to the press release, the city would implement wellness recovery programs to help clients build a strong support system, clinical services to provide treatment for adults and youths undergoing transition, and a “Peer Leader” program to train consumers of services to support others with mental health services.

“There needs to be more dialogue surrounding (mental health issues),” said Athena Chin, a Berkeley High School senior, in an email. “The Peer Leader program would be a wonderful start.”

She said her peers at school often lack awareness on identifying mental disorders and don’t know where to go to get proper long-term help.

Chin also pointed out that students have been creating memes as a way to deal with emotional and mental challenges, but alleged this perpetuates stress culture instead of improving mental health adequately.

Worthington also said increasing coordination between the city and school districts in Berkeley would be a valuable part of the plan and requested an evaluation of whether joint coordination between the two parties could be added.

The plan is being funded by the state through the Mental Health Services Act, or MHSA, according to Worthington, and is outlined to use $25 million over the next three years.

The MHSA was passed by California voters as Proposition 63 in November 2004 in order to aid the public mental health system and taxes one percent of all personal incomes greater than $1 million, according to city documents. Funds are distributed toward mental health jurisdictions based on the total population of the area.

Berkeley’s Mental Health Division, one of two in the state, is funded almost entirely by state and federal sources, the press release states. The division focuses mainly on providing services to those with serious mental illnesses with no Medi-Cal or insurance.

Chin said in an email that while the division is a “wonderful” presence, the city can dedicate more attention to mental health through improvement in education and treatments, emphasizing that many people experience mental health challenges from a young age.

Community members can give input on the plan through email submission or in-person at the Mental Health Commission meeting set to take place at 7 p.m. on June 22 at the North Berkeley Senior Center, according to the press release.

Christine Lee is an assistant news editor. Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.