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SEIU Local 535 Dragon--Voice of  the Union-- American Federation of Nurses & Social Services Unioin  
They call it “the silent disease.” Few people who suffer from mental illness want others to know. They range from homeless people wandering the streets to the middle-class teenager threatening suicide or out of control. Nearly 25% of Americans suffer from major depression during some time in their lives, and almost 30,000 Americans committed suicide last year, twice the number of homicides. Of the people suffering from mental illness, only 21% are getting adequate treatment according to a study by the Harvard Medical School, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One of the areas hit hardest by the proposed state budget cutbacks is mental health services. Many of the people who use county mental health facilities are the most vulnerable people in society, and the most marginal politically. Others are often too embarrassed to admit they use the services.

Mental health facilities are not only facing staffing cutbacks; many are being threatened with closure. Like many counties, Solano has been dealing with its budget problems by not hiring new workers when someone leaves. The county then proposed to eliminate 33 positions. When added to the already existing vacancies, this would leave the mental health system short 191 staff positions according to Local 535 field representative Anes Lewis-Partridge. People are already working long hours of overtime at a job that is high stress to begin with. The county also considered closing one of its two crisis centers, the Vallejo Crisis Center, which would have meant that people going through a mental health breakdown in this community would have to travel to neighboring Fairfield, many miles away.

Through intense lobbying, the union has prevented most of the planned layoffs and the closure of the crisis center. However, this was just the first battle, Partridge warns. Everyone is waiting for the next set of budget cuts when the state budget is finally passed. The Dragon spoke with people at the Fairfield mental health center and the Vallejo Crisis Center and talked with members of the mental health community.