CA signs bills allowing students access to mental health education, support at schools

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The COVID-19 pandemic created mental health struggles in people who previously never faced them like kids.

The State says 1-in-3 high school students felt sad or hopeless nearly every day and UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital says they saw double the amount of suicide attempts in children.

On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed two new senate bills aimed to help those students in need.

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Lockdowns, loss of social interaction and the fear of the unknown, the effects from what we all had to live through in 2020 still impact us mentally every day. This is especially true for children.

"None of our kids are immune to this and as a parent it's scary," Elementary school parent Monica Gonzalez said.

The state recognized the need and a senate bill was drafted.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino authored the bill. He remains a mental health advocate after losing his brother to suicide.

In a statement, Sen. Portantino said, "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. 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. 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."

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Senate Bills 14 and 224 are a way to destigmatize mental health and provide aid to students who are struggling.

"There's been a lot of trauma and it's important that we recognize that and this bill goes a long way to accepting that, recognizing it and helping them get the right treatment," Child Mind Institute San Francisco Bay Area Clinical Director Dr. Michael Enenbach said.

The bill calls for mental health days to be counted as sick days and mandates mental health education as part of the curriculum by 2024.

Mental health professionals see it as a major win.

"It's going to set these kids up for success in recognizing symptoms, getting the appropriate treatment and then they'll pay that forward to their children," Dr. Enenbach said. "Hopefully, moving forward, this is going to be a lot better than it was 30 years ago."

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After 18 months away from school campuses, children missed critical development in social skills, experts say. And for some it's causing anxiety.



San Jose Unified School Board President Brian Wheatley says this addresses a major need in school.

While he cannot get into too many specifics of what the programs will offer quite yet, he is most excited about the grant opportunities that will help train and fill so many empty mental health positions in schools.

"I'm thrilled that there's a recognition in Sacramento that part of this money is going to go towards training people to join the profession, because it's so important," Wheatley said.

School will always be a place for learning and parents say these lessons will make a major impact.

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"Life is going to continue to happen and so, it's important that kids get these resources, services and this knowledge early on," Gonzalez said. "It's just as important as math and reading."

"It is like hundreds of years of the same routine and the same curriculum and same process," Elementary school parent Tanvi Agarwal said. "Nobody thinks that way, so it's a good start."

It may be seen as just a start, but a step in the right direction.

TAKE ACTION: Get help with mental health issues

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