What is mental health?
Health includes our physical, mental, and social wellbeing. Like the health of our bodies, our mental health effects everything we do. “Mental illnesses” are health conditions that change our emotions, thinking, and/or behavior. Mental health conditions can cause stress and problems with social, work or family life. Many things can play a part in having a mental illness, like biology (your brain chemistry), a family history of mental health problems, and difficult life experiences, like trauma or abuse. There are healthy habits we can have for our own mental health, and sometimes it helps to get treatment from a professional for mental health conditions.
Why don’t we talk about mental health more?
Living with mental illness is common. More than half of people in the US have a mental illness in their lifetime. At least half of people incarcerated at CDCR are getting mental health services. So, nobody is alone in their experience. Even so, mental health is still misunderstood and stigmatized. People may be judged by others or discriminated against in society because of their mental health. Fear of mental illness is harmful – it makes people feel more isolated and keeps people from getting help. Taking care of mental health is just as important as treating any other physical health condition like diabetes or cancer. We want you to know there are options for getting the support you need to live well.
Can I get mental health services inside?
Yes, CDCR has a statewide mental health program to provide care inside prisons. This program provides different levels of mental health services based on what patients need to be healthy inside and to successfully release. All people are asked about mental health when coming into prison and you can always request to speak with someone about your mental health.
What happens to prepare for release?
Your mental health team at CDCR will help you prepare for your release. The Transitional Case Management Program (TCMP) will meet with you to enroll in health insurance (Medi-Cal) and other benefits. You may be referred to mental health services in the community, either through the county where you are living, through your parole program, or at another community clinic. Make sure you have information about where you can go for care when you get out. Your team may be able to assist with referrals to housing or other programs to support your reentry. You will get a 30-day supply of medications at release, so you will want to be sure to follow-up with your new doctor in the community within the first month.
What mental health services are available in the community?
A first step to getting mental health care in the community is to call the county and activate your Medi-Cal health insurance. Medi-Cal insurance covers necessary doctors visits, medications, treatment facilities, and hospitalizations to support your mental health. If you participated in mental health services inside, you may get referred to community mental health services as part of your parole or probation so you can continue your care. You may also have the option of getting care at a community clinic of your choice, so long as it takes your insurance. If you haven’t been getting mental health services inside, you can always seek them for the first time at a clinic in your community.
Sometimes clinics in the community will focus on either medical care or mental health services (also called behavioral health). Some clinics offer medical care and mental/behavioral health services under the same roof. These types of clinics can become your long-term “medical home” in the community. The Transitions Clinic Network has clinics like this across the state with Community Health Workers (CHWs) that can help you access and navigate any health care services you need. These CHWs have also experienced incarceration and reentry, so they will know what you’re going through.
Getting out of prison is a journey both long awaited and uprooting. You should expect that you will experience stress at times having to adjust to a new life outside and have a plan for how you will handle increased stress. To get the support you need, finding a medical home that cares about you as a whole person will make a difference. Caring for your mental health with self-care and medical support will help you be successful.