State Sen. Anthony J. Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has introduced Senate Bill 224, which would require all students in California to receive age-appropriate mental health education.
If the bill passes, students would receive mental health education from a qualified instructor at least one time during elementary school, one time during middle school, and one time during high school.
“It is inarguable that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis in California,” Portantino said in a prepared statement. “Even before the pandemic, the rate of students struggling with mental health problems such as depression has steadily risen over the years. Now isolated from their family and friends, students are suffering even more. Mental health is just as important as physical health and it is unfortunate that we neglect it in our curriculum. By educating kids from a young age, we can bring these issues out of the shadows and end the stigma and taboo surrounding the discussion of mental health.
Portantino previously authored Senate Bill 972, which would require schools to print the suicide hotline number on student identification cards.
Another Portantino bill, Senate Bill 14, would require that a proportion of each school’s staff and teachers be trained in evidence-based mental health training programs. SB 14 also would additionally align mental health and behavioral health with physical health as it pertains to excused absences. These two bills will ensure that both our educators and students are aware of and can respond effectively to mental health issues.
SB 224 is co-sponsored by a coalition of mental health advocate groups including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the California Youth Empowerment Network (CAYEN), the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, the California Children’s Partnership, and the National Center for Youth Law.
“Mental illness impacts families, individuals and communities across our state on a daily basis,” said Jessica Cruz, CEO of the California chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI CA). “Schools are one of the first points of contact where students show early signs and symptoms of an onset of mental illness. In order to change our culture in how we respond to mental illness, we must educate students early and often. With suicide rates in young adults at an all-time high, it is more important than ever that we implement curriculum that will help connect students and families to the appropriate resources and treatments available.”