Solano Mental Health Month showcases options, results
❒ Proposition 63 approach said to help 1 in 5 Californians who report needing assistance
Family members and friends, children and the elderly, rich and poor: mental illness can affect anyone, no matter what age, sex, gender or ethnic background.
“That’s why it’s important to recognize Mental Health Month and bring the issues and challenges surrounding mental health in California to the forefront,” said Halsey Simmons, Solano County Mental Health director.
The tradition of celebrating Mental Health Month began in 1949 as an effort to raise awareness of mental health issues and mental wellness for all.
This May, Simmons said, it is more important than ever that Californians understand the role that local programs play in improving the lives of the nearly one in five individuals in California who report needing help with a mental- or emotional-health problem.
“Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing,” he said. “Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by getting help and by learning ways to better manage their illness.”
One such person is Paul Sanford, who represents consumers on Solano County’s Quality Improvement Committee and others.
Sanford was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 1987, and has been living with the condition for more than 25 years. In addition to the stress of his condition, he said he has experienced challenges obtaining services, understanding and respect from the providers working with him, and others.
Sanford said while he has plenty he could be upset and bitter about, he isn’t.
He explained that bipolar illness doesn’t define him, but is merely an “element of his personality” — an element for which he finds a way to be grateful. Bipolar, he said, has implanted a metaphoric “chip” in his brain that allows him to “see things in a slightly different way” and allows him to be “productively creative.”
Sanford sees events in his life as opportunities he can report in a funny way. It’s no surprise then, with that attitude, Sanford finds himself on stage doing comedy at Pepperbelly’s and various comedy clubs in San Francisco.
He is currently performing his show entitled, “LOL, Everybody, LOL” in local venues.
“Paul is a living testimony to the ability of the mentally ill to recover from illness and achieve the extraordinary,” Simmons said.
In honor of May as Mental Health Month, the following county events have been planned:
• Caminar is celebrating by presenting the “Cammie Awards” from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 25 at the Foley Cultural Center, 1461 North Camino Alto, in Vallejo. Lunch will be provided, and there will be music, door prizes and a festive atmosphere. Caminar is a Northern California community-based nonprofit whose mission “is to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities by providing opportunities to live in the community with dignity and independence.”
• A presentation by Dr. Michael Fuller from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, called, “Relapse Awareness and Management Strategies,” will be offered on May 30 at the Solano County Mental Health Office, 2101 Courage Drive, in Fairfield. The evening begins with dinner at 6 p.m.; the hour-long presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. Call 707-784-8102 to register for the free event.
“Without programs to support those recovering from mental illness, the consequences for the individual and society can be staggering: unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide and many other negative outcomes,” Simmons said.
In California, the Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63) was passed by voters in November 2004 to provide funding for a different approach to treating mental illness.
Prop. 63 is responsible for a major shift in the way California provides mental health services — away from a model that provided primarily crisis care and costly institutionalization, and toward a new system that includes a focus on wellness, recovery, prevention and early intervention.
“By emphasizing a ‘help first’ rather than ‘fail first’ approach, California is saving lives and money by increasing productivity in school, work, family, and other life domains for those most at risk,” Simmons said.
He said Prop. 63 is delivering on its promises; funding for the proposition supports hundreds of programs and services in every county in California.
The services it funds are reducing homelessness, acute psychiatric hospitalizations, arrests and incarcerations, Simmons said.
Prop. 63 also is helping California during difficult economic times by reducing the costs of untreated mental illness, he said.
Untreated mental illness is the largest single cause of not being able to work, Simmons said.
Mental health services that connect physical health, substance use treatment, housing, education, and employment support are cost-effective, he said.
One specific goal of Mental Health Month this year is to challenge all Californians to consider their views toward mental illnesses, and respect those who live with these disorders, Simmons said.
“All Californians must work together to eliminate the stigma too often associated with these disorders, which only contributes to the isolation and difficulty experienced,” he said.
Despite many challenges to the local economy, Simmons said, he believes there is an increasing sensitivity to the needs of the mentally ill in Solano County, and a realization on the part of local government and city government that mental illness is a priority area for action that affects not only those challenged with illness, but all Solano residents.
“By recognizing that mental illness is a challenge best met by the community through the elimination of stigma and prejudice, by maintaining or putting in place critical services, and working with mental health consumers and family members to promote self-sufficiency, resiliency and recovery, Solano County is hard at work to better the lives of those affected by mental illness,” Simmons said.