State lawmakers, California schools chief and mental health providers argued recently for a continued focus on suicide prevention efforts, particularly for children and youth, as they celebrated passage of a law creating a state office of suicide prevention while noting vast unfulfilled needs for school resources to combat suicide and self-harm on campuses.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland) authored AB 2112, the bill creating the state suicide office, which will take effect on Jan. 1. He thanked Governor Gavin Newsom for approving the measure and also referred to a state auditor’s report issued in late September that revealed increasing youth suicide rates and acts of self-harm.
“The auditor’s report, released a few days after my bill was signed, underscores the urgent need for a coordinated, statewide approach to suicide prevention, especially for vulnerable groups such as young people,” Ramos said. “The report is a clear, insistent call to action that must not be ignored. It shows the annual number of suicides among youth ages 12 to 19 increased by 15 percent statewide from 2009 to 2018. Instances of self-harm increased by 50 percent during the same period. Those rates were prior to COVID-19.”
He emphasized that the pandemic has exacerbated the crisis: “A June survey by the Centers for Disease Control found that one in four young people ages 18 to 24 said they had seriously considered suicide in the past 30 days—more than twice as high as any other age group.”
Ramos, who also worked on mental health issues as a San Bernardino County supervisor and has introduced anti-bullying and student mental health legislation in the state Assembly, said he would continue to press for resources benefiting students and other at-risk groups.
He was joined by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond. ”Even before the COVID-19 public health crisis, students across California have told us they are struggling with higher rates of anxiety, depression, and isolation. And we know that the stress of the pandemic, racial injustice, and natural disaster this year have only added to the challenges for many,” said Thurmond. “I want to thank Assemblymember Ramos for his leadership, and Gov. Gavin Newsom for signing AB 2112, so that we can build on the tools and strategies needed to ensure we can proactively address the emotional and mental wellness of every student and support their academic success.”
Chris Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services and a sponsor of the Ramos measure said, “Youth suicide is a growing public health crisis in California, with suicide being the second leading cause of death among adolescents.” She added, “The passage of AB 2112 and the creation of a statewide office of suicide prevention is a vital step towards developing a coordinated approach to suicide prevention across California, especially for the most vulnerable children and youth within our state.”
State Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), a principal co-author said, “Suicide in youth has been an epidemic in hiding for too long. That is why last year I sponsored SB 331, and this year I was eager to help get something through.”
Alex Briscoe, principal at California Children’s Trust, said, “I want to thank the advocates and leaders on this call today for bravely and courageously bringing forward this issue of an epidemic of despair. We must do much better.” He also said that calls to California youth crisis lines have increased by 272 percent “since the onset of COVID.”
In addition to Stoner-Mertz and Briscoe, other mental health service providers who participated in the virtual news event and strongly supported AB 2112 included Lishaun Francis, associate director of Health Collaborations, Children Now andTami Martin, legislative manager of Equality California.