Mental Health Awareness Roundup: San Francisco officials push for universal mental healthcare

San Francisco residents in need can turn to Healthy SF for affordable healthcare coverage, and if two city supervisors have their way, residents will have guaranteed mental health coverage, as well.

San Francisco residents in need can turn to Healthy SF for affordable healthcare coverage, and if two city supervisors have their way, residents will have guaranteed mental health coverage, as well.

Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney introduced a ballot measure this week to create a program appropriately called Mental Health SF. If approved by the voters in November, it would provide for mental health and addiction recovery services for San Francisco residents, regardless of their financial standing.

It would go a step further than Healthy SF, as well – while that program is reserved for the uninsured, Mental Health SF would be available even for residents who have health insurance.

Seniors stand to benefit from expanded coverage

Financial strain is one of the major concerns facing older adults, as it affects nearly everything else. Without money to pay for treatment, many older San Franciscans simply go without, and their mental health suffers for it.

With Mental Health SF, older adults dealing with depression or anxiety could get the help they need. Seniors having issues with medication, even addiction, could see a qualified professional.

In the announcement, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, Ronen said all San Franciscans are aware of the problem. Services like IOA’s Friendship Line were born from that need. Now, Ronen said, is the time to do something big.

“San Franciscans are ready for a bold and big change. We can’t keep failing.”

The proposal calls for the use of state funding as well as a tax increase on companies that pay their CEOs 100 times more than the median compensation paid to their employees. It would create a 24/7 service center and an office to coordinate care.

The supervisors and Mayor London Breed’s office have made mental health awareness in San Francisco a priority. Breed recently appointed Dr. Anton Nigusse Bland, medical director for Psychiatric Emergency Services at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital as the city’s first-ever director of mental health reform. In that role, Dr. Nigusse Bland will evaluate the city’s existing services and identify opportunities for change.

Mental health apps soaring in popularity

Mental Health Awareness Month is about raising awareness, but once you acknowledge you need help, where do you get it? For many, seeing a therapist in person is difficult, whether because they aren’t ready to take that step or simply can’t afford it. That’s where phone apps and online services like Talkspace, Ginger, and BetterHelp have stepped in, and they are clearly filling a need. This morning, Talkspace announced it had raised an additional $50 million in funding, for a total of $110 million, and will partner with UnitedHealth Group to make the app available to 2 million of UnitedHealth’s Optum customers.

While these apps are not aimed specifically at older adults, it’s an audience that will perhaps benefit more than most. Mobility and transportation are common issues for seniors. While they may want to speak to a therapist, they may not have the means to visit one in person. Arranging for transportation on a regular basis to visit a mental health professional may be reason enough for an older adult in need to decide it’s not worth the trouble. The ability to communicate with a therapist from the comfort of their own homes, then, means the removal of a major barrier to service. Talkspace co-founder Oren Frank said he started the company in part because mental health services are woefully lacking. According to federal estimates, about 57 million adults had mental health or substance-use conditions in 2017, and about 70 percent of them received no treatment. Apps like his allow users to text, email or video chat with licensed therapists for a flat weekly or monthly fee.

May 29 is National Senior Health & Fitness Day

Mental health doesn’t have a monopoly on the month of May! In fact, for 26 years now, the last Wednesday of May has been National Senior Health and Fitness Day, a nationwide event aimed at keeping American seniors healthy and fit. There are more than 1,000 fitness events planned all over the country, including Northern California. This year’s theme is “Live and Thrive with Exercise!” and includes things like fitness walks and other low-impact exercises, health screenings, workshops, and more.

Kidding aside, it’s a well-researched fact that physical and mental health are intertwined. Exercise is often prescribed as a treatment for depression and anxiety, and seniors who suffer from loneliness and isolation can turn to group exercise classes for socialization.

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