Updated to note that California Health Care Foundation is a funder of MindSite News.

Californians once again have named mental health as a top priority for the state’s political leaders to address – and they are deeply concerned about other people’s mental health, as well as their own.

Image: California Health Care Foundation

Nearly three quarter of Californians believe that “making sure people with mental health problems can get the treatment they need” is an “extremely” or “very” important priority for state government to address, according to a survey conducted by the California Health Care Foundation. (The Foundation is a funder of MindSite News.)

Many are also frustrated about their own ability to get mental health services. More than one in five (21%) said they tried to make an appointment for mental health care during the previous year – but most (53%) believed they had to wait too long and almost half (49%) said they had difficulty finding a provider who took their insurance.

“That’s really an outrageous statistic when both state and federal law mandate parity for mental health insurance coverage,” said Catherine Teare, associate director of the California Health Care Foundation’s People-Centered Care team. “We’re concerned to see just how many Californians who sought to make an appointment for mental health care could not find a provider who takes their insurance.”

Two other health policy priorities ranked very high. Almost half (49%) of Californians said it was “extremely” important that public health agencies have the resources they need to respond to emergencies, and that there are enough doctors and other health care providers across the state. Slightly more (50%) said that mental health care access was “extremely” important.

The 2023 survey, the fifth annual, was conducted last fall and included 1739 participants. It was the third time that access to mental health care has topped the list of health policy priorities found to be “extremely” important. 

While 83% overall said that access to mental health treatment was “extremely” or “very” important, the numbers varied by ethnicity: 97% of Black people, 84% of Latinos, 83% of whites and 75% of Asians agreed with that assessment. The responses also demonstrated a partisan divide: 89% of Democrats and 74% of Republicans said access to mental health care was “extremely” or “very” important. 

Large majorities also said it was extremely or very important to fund health and mental health services for homeless people (73%) and to ensure that people with drug and alcohol problems “can get the treatment they need” (71%).

Almost half of Californians (46%) say their community doesn’t have enough mental health providers. But the rate varied among ethnic groups, with 54% of Blacks and 50% of Latinos reporting a shortage of mental health care providers in their community, compared to 45% of whites and 38% of Asians.

The survey also found that 52% reported that they or a family member had skipped or postponed some form of health care during the previous year due to cost. About one in five (21%) reported specifically having delayed mental health care.

“The high cost of care is now directly impacting the health and financial security of millions of California families,” Kristof Stremikis, the foundation’s director of market analysis and insight, said in a statement.

Type of work:

David Tuller, DrPH, is a senior fellow in public health and journalism at UC Berkeley’s Center for Global Public Health, part of the School of Public Health. He received a masters degree in public health...