Across the globe, people are realizing that among the devastation we’ve seen from COVID-19, there is another public health crisis worsening — our mental health.
Earlier this month, the United Nations secretary-general commented that, “The COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health; it is also increasing psychological suffering: grief at the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of jobs, isolation and restrictions on movement, difficult family dynamics, uncertainty and fear for the future,” He added: “Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are some of the greatest causes of misery in our world.”
In San Francisco, we’ve already seen a level of human misery on our streets that is unimaginable — people struggling with serious mental illness who are unable to care for themselves. Every one of these people has a story — a moment, or most likely moments, where things fell apart and they didn’t get the help they needed.
In the wake of this pandemic, there will be many more people struggling with mental illness at a time when budgets are facing deficits. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from more than 15 years of working in public safety and law enforcement, if we don’t make smart investments now in prevention and mental health, we will widen gaps in care and flood our criminal justice system and our jails with the failures of our mental health system. It’s expensive and it doesn’t work.
This pandemic has shown us that we are overdue for abandoning old ways that don’t work and must forge ahead with new approaches. As we face down the impact of this virus, we have the opportunity to engage and demand a robust health system where insurers, providers and our government officials get people the help and treatment they need. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it is more affordable and effective.
When we prioritize health – mental and physical – we are investing in safe and thriving communities. As a local and state prosecutor, police commissioner and lawyer for the San Francisco sheriff, I witnessed the failures of our mental health systems showing up in the criminal justice system. This is not progressive, fair or innovative. San Francisco’s County Jail remains the largest provider of mental health services in the county. It’s time that our city, state and federal officials work together to ensure that all of us can access a robust and effective system of care that will get people the help that they need.
There is something we can do to make this happen. This week, I introduced a resolution before the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee to support the most important mental health reform bill in Sacramento today: Senate Bill 855, sponsored by our State Senator Scott Wiener. This important bill won unanimous support from my colleagues at the DCCC because it requires insurers to cover medically necessary treatment for all mental health and substance use disorders to ensure individuals receive the comprehensive care they need to treat their underlying conditions. Contact Senator Wiener’s Office today and share your support for his important bill. We need real change and we need it now.
And just as you take action today to reform our mental health system, remember to take care of yourself and your own mental health. Let’s stay connected, look out for each other, and take breaks when we need it, even if just to take a deep breath. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, “Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.”
Stay strong, Sunset.
Suzy Loftus is a native San Franciscan and resident of the Outer Sunset, mother of three, former District Attorney of San Francisco and elected member of the San Francisco Democratic Central Committee.
Categories: Tales of the Sunset