Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The suicide rates among youth in California has continued to rise over the years, making a clear cause for concern that more attention needs to be taken. To make matters worse, a state auditor’s report released last fall had appalling revelations on just how little is actually being done to prevent suicide deaths among youth in California in select school districts. After being the one to request the report, Assemblymember Rudy Salas introduced Assembly Bill 58 because the information revealed that there was not enough work being done. This bill will address the increase in youth suicides and self-harm across the state by improving youth suicide prevention within schools. 

The State Auditor report released in September of last year is titled, Youth Suicide Prevention: Local Educational Agencies Lack the Resources and Policies Necessary to Effectively Address Rising Rates of Youth Suicide and Self-Harm. It revealed that some local educational agencies (LEAs) listed in the report had out-of-date policies in place and could be doing more on their part to help eliminate youth suicide and self-harm. The findings from the report further showed that the LEAs had not adopted adequate youth suicide prevention policies and trainings to give to school faculty. Therefore, the state auditor determined that schools can more effectively assist students if they do the following:

  1. Implement appropriate suicide prevention policies.
  2. Train their faculty and staff to recognize and respond to youth who are at risk of suicide and self-harm.
  3. Employ an adequate number of professionals, such as school counselors, who can provide mental health services. 

The introduced bill will make, starting with the 2022-23 school year, LEAs have to provide suicide awareness and prevention training at the beginning of each school year to teachers of pupils in all of the grades served by the LEA. The LEAs will also have to review and update their policy on pupil suicide prevention in addition to revising their training materials. According to the bill’s official legislature page, “The materials approved by a local educational agency for training shall include how to identify appropriate mental health services both at the school site and within the larger community, and when and how to refer youth and their families to those services.” California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP) Vice President of Education and Strategic Development Kristina Padilla, emphasizes the importance of the LEAs taking action to educate school faculty. “The dramatic rise that we have seen in youth-related self-harm and suicide has created an immediate need for Local Education Agencies to take immediate action. It is pertinent that faculty and staff are educated in identifying warning signs associated with suicide and self-harm among youth and teens, as it is essential that mental health advocacy, proper education, and prevention, are of the utmost importance during these critical times.”

According to Assemblymember Salas’ news release on this bill, it will also require the State Department of Public Health to create a pilot program to establish school health centers at 5 local educational agencies located in the counties with high rates of youth suicide and self-harm. The department would have to work with the State Department of Education, to collect data on the pilot program and provide annual reports on the effectiveness and cost of the pilot program. Additionally, LEAs will also be made to take full advantage of federal funds for Medi-Cal eligible students.

As adolescents spend most of their time at school during the day, the importance of schools recognizing troubling signs, and being equipped with proper care is critical. Schools being able to recognize concerning signs from their students is a crucial part in prevention. Furthermore, there should never be an issue of someone needing to get help not at least having the option to receive it. That is why the LEAs going over updated policies and ensuring up-to-date trainings each year with the schools is important, so they will be constantly informed and aware of how to help. Another important piece of the puzzle is that there must be an adequately staffed school psychologist workforce on site so that there is always enough help available.

CCAPP’s Board Chair Rose Wheeler says, “Children and teens spend a significant amount of time with teachers. This is an opportunity to assist teachers in having the training to recognize the signs of suicide risk. The suicide risk for our youth has significantly risen this past year. We want to make sure our youth get the help they need by ensuring our teachers are properly trained.” Suicide risk has surely risen in the past year due to the pandemic that has caused many challenges, especially when it pertains to mental health. Students who were used to always being in school were forced to quickly adapt to at home schooling instead of being able to physically go into school. For that reason alone, there is a high probability a toll was taken on a lot of those students’ mental health.

Hopefully, all of these necessary changes to be implemented by this bill will come to fruition. Youth suicide and self-harm must be addressed by having all schools in every district up to par with the best practices and policies to help their students. With enough support, this bill will be passed and there will be no reason that every school in the state is not qualified enough to watch out for and provide suicide and self-harm preventing mental health services to their students.

Pete Nielsen LAADC, SAP

Pete Nielsen is the President & Chief Executive Officer for the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP), CCAPP Credentialing, CCAPP Education Institute and the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (BHAP). CCAPP is the largest statewide consortium of addiction programs and professionals, and the only one representing all modalities of substance use disorder treatment programs. BHAP is the leading and unifying voice of addiction-focused treatment programs nationallly. Mr. Nielsen has worked in the substance use disorders field for 20 years. In addition to association management, he brings to the table experience as an interventionist, family recovery specialist, counselor, administrator, and educator, with positions including campus director, academic dean, and instructor.

Mr. Nielsen is the secretary of the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium, and on the publisher for Counselor magazine.  He is a nationally known speaker and writer published in numerous industry-specific magazines.  Mr. Nielsen holds a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management.