County behavioral health directors prepare for COVID-19 impact

As California ramps up its response to the COVID-19 virus, county behavioral health departments are responding to ensure mental health and substance use disorder services remain available to the clients they serve and to share the best available information on how Californians can care for their mental health as they follow public health guidance on social distancing, quarantine, or isolation.


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“Physical and behavioral health are closely linked, so as our state responds to the growing number of Californians exposed to the COVID-19 virus, we must also plan for consequences on members of our community who need support for mental health and substance use conditions,” said Michelle Doty Cabrera, executive director of the County Behavioral Directors Association of California (CBHDA).  “To that end, county behavioral health departments are working with state officials and other county agencies to support the state’s public health response and minimize disruption to people in our communities who are counting on the behavioral health services we provide.

“We urge Californians to take steps to care for their mental health as well as their physical health.  While some anxiety is to be expected with the uncertainty and the impacts of social distancing and isolation, we can take steps to address mental health impacts by knowing the facts about COVID-19 virus transmission and using alternative communications to stay connected and in community,” Cabrera continued. “For Californians who are advised to practice social isolation, or are under quarantine or isolation, staying connected to friends and loved ones remotely through phone, text, or video chatting can help avoid anxiety or depression. County behavioral health is also a community resource for those individuals with mental health and substance use disorder concerns.”  County mental health access lines can be found here. The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers more guidance for managing mental health during and after social distancing, isolation or quarantine in English and Spanish.

CBHDA also cautioned that discrimination and stigma have a detrimental effect on mental health and access to behavioral health services. Marin County Director of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services Jei Africa said,

“Despite the fact that there is no racial, ethnic or cultural basis for the disease, news media report that people of Asian descent are facing increasing hostility and discrimination due to inaccurate misconceptions about COVID-19.  This bias does nothing to prevent transmission of the disease, which is now a global pandemic, and can have a harmful impact on the mental health of those facing this type of discrimination.”

Staying informed of facts and advice from public health officials, rather than responding to rumors or panic, is important for individuals’ own behavioral health and also to avoid interruptions to our state’s public health system as it works to mitigate the impacts of the virus and treat those affected.  To that end, CBHDA echoes the California State Association of Counties in directing Californians to resources from federal, state, and local officials on this resource page. The California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) has more information about how the public systems serving Medi-Cal beneficiaries are responding to COVID-19 on the DHCS homepage.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with emotions such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or someone else, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

This press release was provided by the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California.