Shining a Light on Behavioral and Mental Health

Christiana Paul Marisa Varond Wendy Brighton Sharon Hamill H Scott Kane and Gene Ma

Behavioral health is an integral component of overall well-being, affecting countless individuals and families in our community. Yet, we face a stark reality: a shortage of behavioral and mental health professionals and support staff in San Diego County, leaving many without access to the critical care they need.
In response to this pressing issue, the Burnham Center for Community Advancement and California State University San Marcos joined forces to co-host the first annual Behavioral and Mental Health Symposium on October 4, 2023. With programmatic support from WorkforceConnect and San Ysidro Health, this event aimed to shed light on the critical shortage in the behavioral health workforce, particularly in North County.

Over 200 people attended the symposium, including Rebecca Jones, Mayor of San Marcos; Ellen Neufeldt, President of California State University San Marcos; Malin Burnham, co-founder of the Burnham Center for Community Advancement; Dr. Luke Bergmann, Director of Behavioral Health Services, County of San Diego; and Dr. Gaurav Mishra, Chief Behavioral Health Officer, San Ysidro Health. The symposium was sponsored by North City and the Shiley Haynes Institute for Palliative Care, underscoring the collaborative effort required to address this critical issue.

According to a report released by the San Diego Workforce Partnership in 2022, our region is expected to face a significant shortage of behavioral health professionals by 2027. The report suggests that we would need to recruit around 18,500 professionals to the field, which is more than the entire current workforce of 17,000. This shortage will have a significant impact on the individuals seeking help, as they may face long wait times, inadequate care, or, in the worst-case scenario, no care at all.

The absence of quality care has far-reaching effects, making it more challenging to address other societal issues. For example, providing care to unhoused members of our community who suffer from one or more chronic conditions may become even more difficult.

The event organizers aimed to catalyze long-term action in addressing the underlying causes of the behavioral and mental health professional shortage. The panelists discussed strategies for recruitment, training and retention of professionals and how to increase awareness, mobilize resources and invest in solutions. Tad Parzen, President and CEO of Burnham Center for Community Advancement, shared that his organization is committed to ensuring that all the necessary voices and leadership are included in the efforts to solve this major community problem. He emphasized that it would require a collaborative approach involving all stakeholders – including education, industry, nonprofit, philanthropy, government and the community – to drive effective solutions.
The Behavioral and Mental Health Symposium served as a precursor to the California State University San Marcos’ Social Mobility Conference, setting the stage for vital conversations and actions to bridge the gap in behavioral health resources and pave the way toward a healthier and more supportive community for all.

Veronica De la Rosa, Anthony White, Bill Ponder, Malin Burnham, Ellen Neufeldt, Patricia Prado-Olmos, Jessica Berger, Tad Seth Parzen, Sophia Eichner, Alan Tornel, Debbie Barnum, Natalie Royston, Stacy Slagor and Shannon McGraw

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Esteban Villanueva