Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two bills Friday authored by State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge) aimed at improving mental health support in schools.
Senate Bills 14 and 224 were both targeted toward addressing “ the growing mental health crisis among California’s youth by implementing mental health education and training in schools,” according to a statement issued by Portantino’s office.
“I am very thankful to the Governor for signing SB 14 and 224 into law and recognizing the urgency of implementing policies that give our kids the help they need,” Portnatino said.
“California is in the midst of a youth behavioral health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the bills don’t nearly go as far as they should, this is an important step forward,” he said. “We need to keep these critical policies moving forward and end the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health. Mental health education and training is one of the best ways to increase awareness and empower students to seek help.”
SB 14 mandates that student school absences due to mental health issues will be treated the same as absences due to physical health issues, according to the senator’s office. It also requires the California Department of Education to recommend “best practices” and training on mental health issues for teachers, staff and students.
SB 224 requires that schools already offering one or more courses in heald education to middle or high school students to include mental health content in those classes, Portnainto’s office said. “SB 224 also requires the California Department of Education to develop a plan to expand mental health instruction in California public schools on or before January 1, 2024.”
Federal statistics indicate nearly one in five California high school students surveyed report having seriously considered attempting suicide, according to Portantino’s office.
“In the fall of 2020, the number of kids with suicide attempts coming to the emergency room at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital had doubled since the fall of 2019,” the statement said.
Supporters of the legislation included the National Alliance on Mental Illness – California, California Alliance of Child & Family Services; the California Association of Student Councils; the California Youth Empowerment Network; the National Center for Youth Law; and the Children’s Partnership.
“We are so thrilled that Governor Newsom signed SB 224 into law,” according to NAMI-CA CEO Jessica Cruz. “NAMI-CA has been working on this issue for years, and we are so grateful to have had the strong leadership of Senator Portantino to carry this policy through, and not a moment too soon.”
“Every day, we learn more about the terrible toll this pandemic has taken on our children and youth’s mental health. It is imperative that we enable them to understand the signs and symptoms of mental illness, overcome stigma, and know how to get help early so they can thrive,” Cruz said.