For only the second time in its entire 50-year history, the Los Angeles County Mental Health Commission will meet to take testimony from the public today, and hear about the range of mental health needs for the Antelope Valley, and they are many, ranging from suicide, to depression, to a range of emotional illnesses, many of which flood in time for the holidays.
This is not your standard public meeting with talking heads droning and audience comments that are largely dismissed or ignored. These commissioners are here to listen. The voices in this meeting will matter. It's literally, in some cases, a path between life and death. And if you choose to go, between 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. today, at Mental Health America Antelope Valley - 506 West Jackman St. - you can get your two cents in.
Dr. Marvin Southard, director of the county's Department of Mental Health, is expected to attend today's meeting, along with Judy Cooperberg, executive director of Mental Health America's Enrichment Services for the Antelope Valley, who was appointed to the commission.
"The community is invited to an opportunity to address the Mental Health Commission and the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health on mental health issues in the Antelope Valley," Cooperberg told the Valley Press.
The meeting would give residents a chance to "share your personal and professional stories" with the commission.
For a variety of reasons - most of them budgetary - our region has been historically underserved for treating these mental illnesses. Without treatment, the afflicted can become a danger to both themselves and others.
What might begin as an undiagnosed and untreated case of clinical depression can spiral downward. Addiction, self-mutilation, even suicide can ultimately be the tragic outcome without intervention and support.
In recent testimony offered to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Cooperberg stressed how the Antelope Valley's population had more than doubled in the 25-years she had lived and worked in the region. With this explosive growth, the AV is now home to the highest rates of heart disease, diabetes and asthma in all of L.A. County.
Per capita, the AV currently also has the highest rates of suicide and depression in the county. There is also a nearly 400% increase in homelessness since the last official count in January.
Our communities remain drastically short of both mental health services and treatment facilities for the afflicted.
Trish Bogna, outreach coordinator for Antelope Valley Partners for Health, provided further statistics to the Valley Press that paint a grim portrait. Based on records from the Department of Public Health in 2009, an estimated 17.1% of the Antelope Valley's population suffers from depression - compared to a 13.6% share of the Los Angeles County population as a whole.
Suicides were 11.4% per capita in the Valley, while they were only 6.6% countywide.
With a total population of more than 430,000 residents, one in every four adults needs some form of mental health services, according to Bogna.
"When the AV had a population of 50,000, we had 60 mental health beds for adults and children," Bogna told the Valley Press. "With the present population (of more than) 430,000, we only have six to 12 mental health beds, with none for children."
Appropriations for more resources will only come when enough people realize doing nothing is not an option. It is up to our community to make sure our voices are heard. We are talking about more than just history today. We are talking about the health and the future of so many men, women and children who are our family, our friends and our neighbors. They deserve a chance to live their lives with a little more light and a lot less darkness.