MHALA 2021 Public Policy and Advocacy Platform

Mental Health America of Los Angeles was born out of the advocacy of “mental health consumers” (i.e., people who access mental health services, who we refer to as “members” today). There have been several waves of advocacy by those who were diagnosed with and treated for mental illnesses, often in inhumane conditions. We have a long history of advocating for mental health resources, access, and equity.

MHALA has transformed how mental health is understood and addressed in California and across the United States through our innovative model of member support, training, and advocacy for laws including California’s Mental Health Services Act. We continue to evolve in our approach and our advocacy evolves alongside it.

We believe that mental health, like our overall health, is something that everyone has and that we all have the potential to face mental health challenges. Like physical health, inequities in our society make mental health challenges more dire for groups who are already marginalized. As such, our policy priorities reflect the many factors impacting one’s wellbeing and resilience, including the social determinants of physical and mental health such as our living conditions and neighborhoods, economic stability, access to resources, and social status. We believe that public policy created the inequities that we see in our society today and that public policy is critical to improving the wellbeing of individuals and communities moving forward.

We arrived at our 2021 policy and advocacy priorities through numerous conversations and meetings with and a survey of MHALA staff. They are as follows:

Expanding mental health resources, access, and equity

MHALA supports policies that strengthen our mental health systems’ ability to meet the needs of all people and communities. From prevention to supporting people with serious mental illnesses, we work to ensure resources for mental health supports at all levels. We advocate for culturally relevant mental health resources and resources that are targeted to the needs of specific populations, including youth, Veterans, older adults, LGBTQIA+ people, and immigrants. We recognize that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color with mental health challenges have faced misdiagnosis, a lower standard of care, and incarceration at higher rates than their white counterparts and seek to ameliorate these inequities through changing policies and systems.

Ensuring systems and services work for Veterans

In addition to providing tailored support to Veterans, MHALA advocates for systems and services that meet the specific needs of Veterans. Ensuring that Veterans are fully informed of the benefits available to them and improving the Veterans Affairs and other health and mental health systems to make it easy for Veterans to access their benefits and care is imperative to Veterans’ health and stability. Additionally, reforming military discharge classifications and the process of applying for a discharge upgrade is critical to eliminating barriers to health, housing, and other benefits due to mental health conditions (including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury), military sexual trauma (sexual assault and harassment), sexual orientation, and other forms of trauma and discrimination.

Promoting resilience through prevention and early intervention

MHALA supports the resilience of people and communities by promoting policies that emphasize prevention and early intervention. By ensuring adequate mental health education and resources for families with young children, school-aged children, and transition-age youth, we can prevent and reduce the impacts of trauma and reduce mental health crises leading to dropping out of school, incarceration, homelessness, and suicide. Additionally, we advocate for funding and programming that supports all people in establishing and maintaining meaningful roles in their communities, including supported employment, education, peer support, community building, and civic engagement. Recognizing that the sooner this happens in one’s life, the more fortified they are against trauma and mental health crises, MHALA has a particular focus on youth.

Supporting youth advocacy for inclusion and justice

MHALA follows the lead of youth who are advocating for robust mental health education and supports in their schools and restorative practices that foster belonging and inclusion amongst students and supportive relationships between young people and the adults in their schools. We are aligned with the advocacy of youth to ensure schools promote equity, are culturally relevant, and build systems of support outside of law enforcement. We also advocate for youth outside of the school system, including those who have dropped out or been pushed out of school. MHALA advocates for the health and wellness services, education and employment, and safe and stable housing young people need as a foundation on which to grow as well as reforms to these systems to ensure that they meet the needs of youth.

Strengthening the social safety net and economic-inclusion policies

Recognizing that poverty and income inequality impact the mental health of people and communities, MHALA promotes policies aimed at reducing income inequality and strengthening interventions that lessen the adverse impacts of poverty and living in an unequal society. We support economic policies which promote the fair distribution of income; social policies that reduce gender, racial, and other inequalities; and expanding access to quality healthcare, equitable education, and living-wage jobs.

Growing opportunities and resources for employment

Employment is one important avenue for people to bring more meaning, personal connections, and financial stability into their lives. MHALA advocates for supported employment services to assist people with mental health challenges and other barriers to employment in developing skills and preparing for employment, finding jobs, and having adequate support and resources to do well in their work. Additionally, many of the current public-assistance programs rigidly disincentivize work and savings. We support robust public assistance that allows individuals to work and move out of poverty and toward financial stability.

Shifting from discrimination and criminalization to care and community

MHALA affirms the dignity of all people and advocates for policies that promote racial justice and immigrant rights. We acknowledge that experiencing racism and discrimination has a negative impact on one’s mental health and wellbeing. Additionally, we believe that public safety has been too narrowly defined to mean policing, incarceration and detention, fines, and other forms of punishment and social exclusion. We push for a more expansive view of public safety and join Black Lives Matter and movements for criminal justice reform in advocating for significant investments in behavioral health responses for individuals experiencing mental health and/or substance use disorders, homelessness, and other situations caused by having basic needs unmet.

Increasing stability and safety through housing

Access to safe, stable, and supportive housing is critical to one’s mental health and wellbeing. Housing insecurity is an issue that impacts the vast majority of our members regardless of their current life circumstances. Young people coming out of the foster care system, the low-income individuals we work with, and college students alike are faced with homelessness or the threat of homelessness due to a lack of affordable housing and renter protections as well as intermediate supports, such as shelters, that don’t meet their needs. MHALA promotes policies to improve the quality, stability, and accessibility of housing through housing production, affordability, and renter protections. We advocate for increased funding and services for people who are facing housing insecurity and homelessness, for supportive housing, and for the protection of the rights of people experiencing homelessness.

By setting forth these policy and advocacy priorities for 2021, MHALA continues its long and evolving commitment to social justice through advocating for the issues impacting our members.

For more information or to get involved in our efforts, please contact Christine Petit, PhD, Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy, at cpetit@mhala.org.

Squares listing public policy priorities