COVID-19 & Emerging Issues

Disasters and disruptions of all kinds impact mental health and stress community service systems

Pandemic-Related Disruptions Create Needs and Opportunities

The COVID-19 pandemic and related public health restrictions and economic impacts have increased mental health stress for Californians. Such disturbances, including natural disasters, test the capacity of the state’s mental health systems to meet pre-existing and emerging needs. The Commission is working to help county partners and service providers rise to the challenge of moments like these to deliver the best mental health services possible.

“Disasters of all kinds exacerbate the racial, ethnic, and cultural disparities in the mental health system. We have a moral obligation to lean into these events to better serve those who are most impacted, and design our responses to develop more effective, equitable, and resilient service systems.”
Lynn Ashbeck

Former Commission Chair, MHSOAC


In 2020-21, the Commission helped county and other community partners respond to the impacts of the pandemic and build capacity in ways that reduce racial, ethnic, and cultural disparities exacerbated by the pandemic.

The Commission reviewed and modified its ongoing projects to better support partners adapting services to emerging needs. The Commission partnered with Social Finance, a nonprofit organization, to launch a Rapid Response Network that provided data to inform novel solutions.

In exploring urgent needs, the Commission found that the pandemic has worsened pre-existing disparities in access to quality care and has put tremendous stress on young people and their families due to the loss of traditional school supports, the isolation associated with quarantining, the ongoing incidences of racial injustice, and the economic distress that has particularly impacted low-income, racial, and ethnic communities.


The pandemic has simultaneously aggravated conditions for mental health consumers and family members, exacerbated risk factors such as anxiety and isolation for all Californians, and disrupted the provision of services to those needing care.

Advocates and service providers are particularly concerned that pre-existing disparities in access to quality care have worsened for some racial, ethnic, and cultural communities.

To address these concerns, the Legislature authorized the Commission to redirect $2.02 million of existing funds in the 2020-21 Budget to fortify the public response to the changing and growing demands on the mental health system.

In January 2021, the Commission approved a plan to utilize the available funding to address disparities in access to effective and culturally appropriate behavioral health services, as well as the increased suicide risk that youth are experiencing, related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the Commission authorized the funds to be invested in activities that:

  • Support the replication of Solano County’s Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Cultural Transformation Model (ICCTM) Innovation Project;
  • Engage county behavioral health leaders on the opportunities to adapt, extend, and replicate the work of the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP); and
  • Further strengthen the Commission’s school mental health work with an emphasis on youth suicide risk and prevention

In 2021-22, the Commission partnered with the following nonprofit organizations to launch these activities:

  • Solano County & UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities
  • Prevention Institute
  • Directing Change Program & Film Contest
  • Bring Change 2 Mind High School Program
  • NAMI on Campus High School Program
  • Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Network
  • The Goldie Hawn Foundation’s MindUP™ Program

Project Milestones

Next Steps

  1. Project Launch

    The Commission will develop contracts and launch projects with its identified partners.

  2. Project Collaboration

    The Commission will facilitate regular Collaboration Meetings with its identified partners to coordinate their activities and ensure the project goals are met and are serving the communities in need.

  3. Project Evaluation & Outcomes

    The Commission and its partners will evaluate the effectiveness of its COVID-19 response by surveying participating students, school administrators, county behavioral health departments, and community-based organizations. Success indicators include, but are not limited to:

    • Increase in leadership opportunities for youth

    • Increased knowledge of mental health resources available in the community

    • Improved sense of belonging and connection with peers

    • School-wide culture shift around mental health

    • Confidence with community engagement models

    • Efforts to implement Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards system-wide

    • Increased readiness and capacity to implement Community Derived Evidence-Based Practices (CDEPs)

    • Community-focused measures to keep prevention strategy moving further upstream

    • Recommended changes to policies, practices, and regulations to support more equitable mental health outcomes

Reach out to learn more about our COVID-19 response