The State of Mental Health in Shasta County (A Preliminary Look)

To me, mental health is not just some abstract need in the community. It’s personal. I have multiple family members who struggle with bipolar. I have had multiple family members attempt suicide or self-harm. I have a family member who struggles with PTSD after multiple military tours in the Middle East.

It’s part of the reason I decided during my sophomore year of college to add a psychology degree to the mechanical engineering degree I was already pursuing. It’s part of the reason I train companies and nonprofits how to reduce the rate of burnout among their people. It’s part of the reason I joined the Shasta County Men’s Advisory Group for Mental Health – and it’s part of the reason I accepted the invitation to speak at this Saturday’s regional meeting of the Shasta County Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness from 2:20-2:40pm.

Mental health is needed for strong families. Mental health is needed for a strong economy. Mental health is needed for a safe community.

This is why several weeks ago I sat down with a leader in mental health services for our county and asked her this question: If you were to create a dashboard that had the most important mental health data on it, what data would you include?

She listed several key indicators:

  • Suicide rate
  • Overdose rate (I’ll share more about this in a future email)
  • Days until people receive care
  • 911 calls that involve mental health needs
  • Days on mental health holds waiting to be transferred elsewhere for care

I wasn’t able to find all of this data yet, but here is what I have found so far, including some additional data.

Poor Mental Health Days:

On average, people in Shasta County experience 5.2 “poor mental health days” every month. This puts us in the bottom sixth of counties in California, with just 9 counties scoring worst on this metric – as shown in the chart below.

Rewind 11 years and you would see a different picture. In 2011, we outperformed 28 of the 58 counties, putting us right around the state average.

Suicide Rates:

When it comes to suicide, the data tells an even sadder story. Currently, we have the 2nd highest suicide rate in the state, almost 2.5 times the state average.

Involuntary 3-Day Mental Health Holds:

Law enforcement and mental health professionals can issue a 5150, which allows them to hold someone exhibiting severe mental illness symptoms for 72 hours for evaluation and treatment. The data of the last 10 years shows an upward trend in Shasta County at the same time that 5150s in other counties and statewide are trending downwards.

We should avoid jumping to assumptions too quickly regarding this data. Declines in the rate of 5150 holds can be the result of less need to issue these holds or less issuing of the holds despite constant or increased need. That said, we would ideally like to see these rates go down due to a decreased need for these detainments.

Permanent Conservatorships:

Permanent conservatorships occur when a judge appoints another person to act or make decisions for the person who needs help. The Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act of 1967 made conservatorship much more difficult to obtain - and importantly so, because government should be exceedingly cautious when it comes to stripping someone of their rights.

However, the LPS Act has also made it difficult to require people who can’t take care of themselves to get the care they need. In response to the growing mental health crisis among those without housing, Governor Newsom has passed several recent laws to make conservatorship somewhat easier to obtain, including the CARES Act and Senate Bill 43.

In Shasta County, we have seen a shockingly large increase in the rate of permanent conservatorships over the last 10 years:

It’s important here again to avoid jumping to conclusions. We don’t know if the need for conservatorships has increased or if the need is the same but more are now requested and approved.

What does all this mean?

We have a serious mental health problem in our county. I don’t highlight this data to shame anyone who has or is currently experiencing mental illness or to criticize anyone who has worked to provide mental health services. I highlight it because, as I train companies on critical thinking, the first step to solving a problem is defining it.

What are the solutions?

I have some ideas, as I’ll share in the coming months - and we’ll find more as we lean into changing this data, which I’m confident we can do.

What ideas do you have for improving mental health in our county? Or what experiences do you have with mental illness that you think are important for me to hear?