New laws to expand access to mental health resources for kids

New laws to expand access to mental health resources for kids

(Calif.) Addressing student mental health was a priority among state lawmakers this legislative session, and schools now have to take a handful of steps to improve access to resources under two bills signed last week by Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 972, authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, requires middle and high schools to print suicide prevention hotline numbers and text crisis hotlines on the back of student identification cards.

And under AB 2639, co-authored by Assemblymen Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, and Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, schools must review their suicide prevention policies at least every five years and update them as needed.

“Requiring schools to review and update their suicide prevention policies will ensure that schools are continuing to support students’ mental health needs,” Berman said in a statement. “This is critically important as youth suicide rates continue to rise.

“The health and safety of our students is paramount and these policies better equip schools to recognize the warning signs and make the appropriate referrals for help,” he said.

The bill builds upon a separate measure signed in 2016, which required schools serving students in grades 7 to 12 to adopt a suicide prevention policy in consultation with school and community stakeholders, mental health professionals and suicide prevention experts.

The suicide rate for children age 10 to 14 doubled nationally from 2007 to 2014–overtaking motor vehicle accidents as the second leading cause of death in that age group–according to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, preliminary findings from a Vanderbilt University study released in 2017 show that the percent of youth ages 5 to 17 hospitalized across the U.S. for self-harm or suicidal thoughts or actions doubled between 2008 and 2015.

Policymakers throughout the country have pushed legislation aimed at reducing the rates of suicide among school-aged kids by improving professional development to help educators spot warning signs and notify the proper people. Many are also targeting subgroups facing higher rates of depression or bullying that lead to higher rates of suicidal thoughts or actions, including Native American youth and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.

In addition to the new requirement that schools in California regularly update their suicide prevention policies, those serving middle and high school-aged children must also print the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on the back of students’ ID cards. SB 972 also authorizes districts to include the Crisis Text Line, as well as a local suicide prevention hotline telephone number.

The bill’s author, Sen. Portantino, said providing such information is a simple thing that can protect students who face mental illness and suicidal thoughts.

For those currently in need of help, or if you know someone in need, resources are available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK [8255]).

Other bills signed last week include:

AB 1868, authored by Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, which allows schools to provide curriculum on the use and distribution of sexually explicit material via social media and cellular devices as part of their comprehensive sexual health education. The goal is to prevent students from “sexting” by explaining the risks and consequences of creating and sharing sexually sensitive material.

SB 830 by Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, requires the California Department of Education to make a list of resources and instructional materials on media literacy available to school districts, as well as professional development programs for teachers. The bill was inspired by a recent Stanford study that found that 82 percent of middle school students struggled to distinguish advertisements from news stories.

AB 3205 by Assemblyman O’Donnell calls on school districts to install indoor classroom locks in schools built before 2012. Currently, teachers in schools without indoor locks must go outside to lock their doors. During a campus emergency–such as a school shooting–this leaves them and their students vulnerable to attacks, O’Donnell said. 

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