Santa Barbara County has the most inefficient mental health departments in the state, according to a California External Quality Review Organization.

According to its Web site, APS Healthcare’s California External Quality Review Organization reviews the State’s Prepaid County Mental Health Plans. Despite its recent rankings, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed using money from the Mental Health Services Act — a proposition meant to provide increased funding and personnel for county mental health programs — to alleviate the state’s depleting General Fund. This would add to the current trend of depreciating mental health services in Santa Barbara as the county suffers from approximately $21 million of debt.

Annmarie Cameron, executive director of the Santa Barbara Mental Health Association, said budget cuts at the state level have been forcing county mental health physicians to turn patients away.

“It’s sad that our local department is having trouble, but the state’s budget is only making matters worse,” Cameron said. “I don’t have a lot of hope that people who are seeking health [services] and are outside of the system will be able to find help. We don’t expect people with diabetes to take care of themselves without treatment, but we don’t have that kind of understanding that everyone needs that tailored plan to help them.”

Moreover, Cameron said cutting drug and alcohol programs and the money that supports the Mental Health Services Act will not fix California’s budgetary problems. Those suffering from mental health problems will be left unattended and eventually transported to hospitals, costing the state and tax payers more money as a result, Cameron said.

According to Jennifer Turner, an executive at the California State Dept. of Mental Health Services, the Dept. of Mental Health is just like any other government-funded entity. As such, Turner said, even though the state holds the most power, each county is still responsible for using its funds in a way that most benefits its needs.

“The State Department of Mental Health and each county’s mental health department continue to work together to ensure delivery of mental health services to those most in need,” Turner said. “Counties are encouraged to evaluate all funding available to them and utilize those funds in the most efficient manner to meet the needs of their constituencies.”

Fortunately, Cameron said, UCSB’s Student Health Services is coping well despite the hardships that state and county mental health departments are facing.

“At least UCSB is doing something really great,” Cameron said. “There are great things happening on campus.” [This] makes me very encouraged.”

However, according to Social Services Representative for Student Health Burt Romotsky, the facility has seen a significant rise in the number of students with mental health problems in recent times.

“I suspect that the economic crisis adds another level of stress for UCSB students and families,” Romotsky said.  ”Some students come to UCSB with pre-existing mental health conditions. They may stop treatment once at UCSB, and late teenage years or early adulthood can be the age range for the onset of some mental health conditions. Alcohol and substance abuse can be significant factors.”

An increase in the university’s Student Health budget over the last two years has helped stabilize mental health services at UCSB, Romotsky said. In fact, he said, the California Mental Health Services Act will only apply to UCSB if county services for involuntary hospitalization or emergency mental health evaluations are needed.