“How are you?”

It’s a common question among friends and family this holiday season. Most of us don’t give it a second thought. Our answers are almost mechanical – “Fine, thanks!” And, usually, fine is absolutely right on.

While the December month commonly evokes joy, for some San Diegans, “fine,” is painfully out of reach. Look a little closer and you may recognize family members, friends, colleagues or neighbors struggling with mental health challenges such as mood disorders.

The San Diego Foundation is working with community advocates, such as UC San Diego Health, to explore ways to better coordinate and deliver behavioral health care in our community.

Realities of Mental Health

According to Mental Health America, “…mood disorders are a category of illnesses that describe a serious change in mood. Illness under mood disorders include: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder (mania), persistent depressive disorder (long lasting low grade depression), cyclothymia (a mild form of bipolar disorder), and seasonal affective disorder.

About 20 percent of the U.S. population reports at least one depressive symptom in a given month, and an estimated 1 in 17 have a serious debilitating mental illness.

Behavioral Health Care in San Diego

Mental health issues and mood disorders specifically are a concern in San Diego County. An estimated 5 percent of San Diegans are living with serious mental illness. The number rises to 8 percent among low-income households. In the future, to guarantee the well-being of our communities, we must adopt a collaborative care model for all, including our most vulnerable populations.


San Diego is a proud military town. According to the VA San Diego Healthcare System nearly 20,000 Veterans have received care for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in San Diego since 2010 and 12 percent of all Veterans are diagnosed with some form of PTSD.


San Diego County also has one of the highest rates of recidivism in California.  Nearly 74 percent of ex-offenders in our county return to prison within two years of release. The connection between mental health and incarceration are well-documented.  Approximately 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates experience a mental health problem.

Aging Population

By 2030, the number of people 65 and over is expected to double in San Diego County, of which 1-5 percent are estimated to be impacted by depression. The rate increases significantly for those who have other chronic health problems, especially medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease.

Emerging Developments and Opportunities

Depression and mood disorders have traditionally been subject to strict labels and definitions, but new research and ideas about mental illness are defining them more like complex systems. Additionally, there is an emerging acknowledgement that improving coordination throughout our local behavioral healthcare system is key to better outcomes for San Diegans.

That’s why we are partnering with UC San Diego Health to support the UC San Diego Mood Disorders Center, a newly designated member of the National Network of Depression Centers. The Center is the next frontier of behavioral healthcare innovation and integration, providing a collaborative approach to help those most in need and benefit the wellbeing of our region.

Contribute to the Mental Health Fund to support programs that address mental health needs through collaborative behavioral health care programs in San Diego.

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