Since it was enacted in 2004, California’s Proposition 63 has raised over $8 billion by taxing the wealthy. The money was intended to pay for mental health services and prevention programs. But lawmakers have called for an audit after questions were raised about how money from the “millionaires’ tax” is being spent.
Meghan Stanton tried to kill herself once, but she shows no sign of depression today as she gives a tour of the Wellness and Recovery Center in North Sacramento. Stanton is Executive Director of the Consumer Self Help Center, a program run by and for people with mental illness.
"We have the wellness recovery part of the program, which is a bit more alternative in terms of our approach," says Stanton.
The Center provides traditional services such as medication management. But it also offers peer therapy and daily activities.
Groups help people to deal with trauma, co-dependency, and anger. Others focus on nutrition, living with HIV, and even basic yoga.
“We all really are trying to provide something here that we thought might have been helpful to us when we were on the receiving end of services," says Stanton.
Funding yoga for mental health is one part of the Act that has raised eyebrows. Lawmakers called for an audit over concerns money was being spent on people without mental illness.
But Meghan Stanton says most of the people who walk through their doors have a diagnosis, and yoga can draw people into other activities that lead to recovery. Thousands of clients have come through the center over the years. Linda Seay is one of them.
“In 1986 I was diagnosed with untreatable, medication resistant schizophrenia and that I would be institutionalized. And for quite some time, that seemed like it was going to happen," says Seay.
Seay’s favorite class is called ‘Writing as a Path to Healing.’ She says she’s learning to write to move past traumatic events, not to recount them. Seay says she’s taking a quarter of the medication she was on when she first got here.
“The changes I have made in myself are just tremendous in just the few months that I’ve been here. And it’s the because of the groups, you know the medication of it is only a small portion of it," says Seay.
Megan Stanton says years ago, the Consumer Self Help Center was much smaller, and was little more than a drop-in center. She says the Mental Health Services Act provided an opportunity to ask clients about services they wanted.
“You know, what is wellness recovery and what does it look like, what should we be including and how should we be going about providing the services. And that’s how we got here. But really this program and this model didn’t exist before the Mental Health Services Act," says Stanton.
But the part of Prop 63 most under scrutiny are the programs under the umbrella of prevention.
“When you’re growing any large new flower garden, there’s going to be some weeds. And no one is saying that every single dollar is spent perfectly," says Rusty Selix.
Selix co-authored the Act and now directs two California mental health organizations. He thinks the money is going towards what the law intended – helping take the severely mentally ill off the streets, closing gaps in children’s services, and paying for prevention. But he says mental health services have a long way to go.
“To the extent that there’s frustration, it’s mostly due to the economy. That we have not made nearly the progress we thought we would have made by now, in reducing the unmet need for mental health care. And that’s due to the fact that the foundation upon with we were trying to build Prop 63 has crumbled," says Selix.
Selix supports the audit of the Act he helped write. He says an audit could help eliminate wasteful bureaucracy and spotlight county by county variations in spending. But he stands by the non-traditional mental health care that he says could help people manage their lives.
"These other forms of activities do have therapeutic value, and in the right manner, at the right cost, they can be a cost effective strategy," says Selix.
The Consumer Self Help Center hasn’t measured the success of its programs. Over the coming months, the state audit will provide its own evaluation of similar programs around the state.