Marin Voice: ‘Crisis first, then care’ model for mental health needs upgrade – Marin Independent Journal

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As we enter Mental Health Awareness Month in May, I’ve been reflecting on the imbalance in access to mental health compared to physical health.
I envision a community where “I have depression” or “I have anxiety” hold the same emotional value as “I have a cold coming on” or “I broke my arm.” So how do we get there?
Unfortunately, mental health systems are set up for crises, or “fail first, then care.” Buckelew Programs serves the uninsured in our community, but approximately 60% of Marin residents who do have health insurance are not covered for mental health until there is a crisis.
While it’s going to take some serious policy change to address this health care barrier, there is much we can do as individuals to create a shift in our cultural attitude and move toward the goal of access for all.
I believe the largest barrier to mental health access is shame. Shame makes people isolate, and isolation makes symptoms worse. Reducing shame starts with acknowledging that it exists.
Let’s take action to normalize. If you work in an office, normalize mental health days by celebrating your team members when they say they feel stressed and are leaving early to go on a hike, instead of focusing on whether or not they filled out the proper paperwork. Bring in a mental health expert for a “Lunch and Learn.” Our team at Buckelew would be thrilled to help organize such events. Changes like these in the workplace will help shift away from the “crisis first, then care” mentality.
If you are comfortable doing so, use your voice. Attend school board meetings and talk to your administrators, your Human Resources department and your elected officials. With friends, family and colleagues, talk about your mental health to pave the way for others who feel less comfortable talking about theirs.
Schools are starting to offer social emotional learning at the grade-school level, a movement I applaud. When we teach emotional self-regulation in kindergarten, it makes a tangible difference in the mental health wellness of our community. Let’s also fund wellness centers at high schools. Teachers can help normalize by encouraging students to visit these centers when they say they need a break.
The benefits of exercise for mental health are well documented, as the neurochemical deluge of endorphins we experience during exercise shifts our mood and our thinking. Evidence also suggests that just being outside when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed can help. We are fortunate to live in a beautiful county. Let’s all get outside and take care of our mental health.
Buckelew is thrilled to be hosting a community event, Bike4Buckelew on May 14, to celebrate mental health and wellness. It’s a way to increase community awareness and show compassion and support for those with mental health challenges. Great food and music, combined with mountain bike trails, a 5-kilometer hike/run and a family ride in beautiful China Camp State Park will make for a true community celebration. Register at
If you are having a hard time and don’t know where to start, we encourage all community members to call our Suicide Prevention Hotline at 855-587-6373. It’s free, available 24/7, it is confidential and you do not need to be in crisis to use it. We want you to call even if you’re just having a bad day, need someone to talk to or even if you are concerned about a friend or family member.
If we are going to move away from the “crisis first, then care” model, let’s encourage one another to reach out for help before we are in crisis.
Mental health truly matters. Be kind to your friends. Ask how they are really doing. Talk about mental health and self-care. Normalize, take mental health days, get outside, use your voice and be part of the change.
When all people have the support they need before they are in a crisis, then we will know we have achieved access to mental health for all.
Chris Kughn, of Fairfax, is CEO of Buckelew Programs.
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