A new legislation bill that targets the prevention of youth suicide has been proposed by Rudy Salas California State Assemblymember (D)- Bakersfield.
Salas introduced the Assembly Bill (AB 58) legislation after findings from a State Auditor report showed that Local Educational Agencies (LEA) lacked resources and policies to address youth suicide and self-harm effectively.
“Any time a young person takes their own life, it is an absolute tragedy that weighs heavily on family, friends, student peers, teachers, and the community as a whole,” said Salas. “This is why I was inspired to author AB 58, which will give schools the resources and training necessary to improve care for at-risk students.”
He continued: “No child should ever die by suicide or feel like they do not have the help they need around them. AB 58 will help reduce the troubling rise in suicides and prevent future tragedies.”
Calls to the crisis hotline center have increased by 10 percent since 2019-20, states Michael Patel, Departmental Public Information Officer of Kern Behavioral Health & Recovery Services.
The audit report evaluated six Local Educational Agencies across California. The LEAs were determined through geography and rates of youth suicide and self-harm. One of those LEAs was the Kern High School District (KHSD). Of all 6 LEAs, none were found to meet adequate youth suicide prevention policies, according to the report.
The report says KHSD did not meet the recommended ratios for mental health professionals during the 2018-19 school year. The American School Counselor Association recommends there be one school counselor for every 250 students. Last year, the KHSD employed 123 counselors for more than 40,000 students. This comes out to a ratio of 328 students per school counselor.
Last school year, KHSD employed 310 individuals dedicated to addressing the mental, emotional, and academic well being of students. These positions include school counselors, social workers, school psychologists, interventionists, mental health clinicians and more. The district’s budget for these support professionals is around $35 million, which is about 7.7 percent of the district’s overall 2018-19 budget.
The report also showed KHSD spent $511 per student on mental health professionals per student compared to the average at $695 in the fiscal year 2018-19. However, Kern High School District incorporated suicide prevention lessons into student curricula. The director of instruction at Kern High School District indicated that the district began developing its policy before Education released its model but would update its policy to include the missing elements.
If the AB58 is passed, it will require the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to initiate a pilot program that will establish five health centers in counties with high rates of youth suicide and self-harm. To see the effectiveness of the pilot program, data and annual reports will be taken annually. Additionally, The California Department of Education guidelines must also be reviewed by the state LEAs, so they may update policy of pupil suicide prevention and identify which practices are best for training materials.
Additionally, this bill would require LEAs to provide suicide awareness and prevention training to staff in the beginning of every school year. Under this bill, the CDPH will also provide technical assistance to CDEs and LEAs, so that Medi-Cal eligible students may receive the appropriate federal funds that are available to them.
Jason Giffard, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, provided information on what signs should teachers, family members, or peers should look for to identify youth that may be contemplating suicide.
“Some emotional signs of depression can be feelings of sadness, frustration, worthlessness, irritability, or anger,” Giffard said. “Often the individual will feel hopeless, or have lost interest in previously enjoyable activities, and may focus on failures and rejections.”
Behaviorally, people experiencing depression are often tired, experience insomnia or sleep too much, have changes in appetite or wright, and may experience restlessness or a slowed thinking and speaking, according to Giffard. When depressed, people may isolate from others, have a decrease in school or work performance, or take actions that harm themselves such as cutting or burning, or even suicide.
“If you are concerned that someone is depressed or thinking of suicide, the best thing to do is ask,” he said “There are many resources available to help those experiencing depression and/or thinking of suicide, and once we have identified that someone needs assistance it is much easier to get them linked to the correct place.”
If you or someone you know is depressed, feeling alone, or having suicidal thoughts visit https://kernpublichealth.com/depression-resource-list/