Sep 18, 2023 - News

Mayor touts bill making it easier to force mental health treatment

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria speaks at a 2020 Pride Week event. Photo: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images

Mayor Todd Gloria is again touting a statewide effort to reform the behavioral health system by making it easier for the government to compel mental health treatment.

Driving the news: The state Legislature last week passed SB 43, which expands the definition of when people in psychological distress are considered "gravely disabled" so they can be forced into treatment. The bill adds substance use disorder as a factor in that determination, and now awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom's signature.

  • "California's Mayors are on the frontlines of the state's mental health crisis," Gloria said in a statement on behalf of the Big City Mayor's coalition, a group of the mayors of California's 13 biggest cities. "We need tools like conservatorship reform to connect our most vulnerable residents to housing and treatment."

Why it matters: The bill is the latest effort to combat the mental health, addiction and homelessness crises by making it easier to compel treatment and services for people who are unable to care for themselves.

Flashback: Newsom last year signed the CARE Act, which allowed family members, mental health workers and law enforcement to ask a judge to order people diagnosed but untreated with psychological disorders into treatment plans for up to two years.

  • Gloria championed that bill and joined Newsom at its signing, and San Diego County was among the first eight counties in the state to roll out the courts, which are supposed to launch next month.
  • The county's behavioral health director told Voice of San Diego the county expects to receive about 1,000 petitions a year to force someone into treatment, with judges expected to approve about 250 of those.

The other side: Expansion of conservatorships has been strongly opposed by both disability and civil rights advocates.

  • "This involuntary approach not only robs individuals of dignity and autonomy but is also likely ineffective," wrote the Human Rights Watch in a letter opposing SB 43. "Studies of involuntary mental health treatment have generally not shown positive outcomes."

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