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California law to implement better mental health in schools

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Posted at 3:31 PM, Jan 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-04 21:14:53-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The back and forth in school instruction, and isolation because of the pandemic, not only cut into a child’s learning but also impacted their mental health. Now a new California law wants to build a foundation of mental health education in schools across the state.

Senate Bill 224 requires school districts to give a mental education course at least once during elementary, middle, and high school.

Although some say that is not enough, it is a good starting point for many who would otherwise never get those resources that we saw became critical during the pandemic.


What is Senate Bill No. 224?

This bill would require each school district, county office of education, state special school, and charter school that offers one or more courses in health education to pupils in middle school or high school to include in those courses instruction in mental health that meets the requirements of the bill, as specified. The bill would require that instruction to include, among other things, reasonably designed instruction on the overarching themes and core principles of mental health. The bill would require that instruction and related materials to, among other things, be appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds, pupils with disabilities, and English learners. The bill would require the State Department of Education to develop a plan to expand mental health instruction in California public schools on or before January 1, 2024.


“Prior to the pandemic, it was about 20 percent of children met criteria for anxiety and depression. New research shows that during the pandemic, we are seeing upwards of 50 percent of more are meeting clinical criteria of anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Amanda Suplee, Pediatric Psychologist at Valley Children’s Hospital.

Anxiety and depression have been conditions some teens have dealt with now with a pandemic the number has doubled.


Common Mental Health Issues Among Kids in the Central Valley:

Common mental health issues among kids in the Central Valley


This data means parents should look out for physical symptoms like abdomen pain and headache as a manifestation of anxiety and changes in behavior like change in appetite and sleep schedule as signs of depression.

Not all cases are with teens, Dr. Suplee tells 23ABC they have cases of kids dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts as young as kindergarten. She hopes that the stigma around mental health changes so each child can grow knowing it’s okay to seek help before it becomes a bigger issue.

Along with helping each child individually understand and learn to work through their feelings, Jeffrey Coggan the Program Supervisor for Prevention Services at Kern County Superintendent of Schools Office said it will help kids identify any red flags among peers.

“With this mental health education, it is also looking at the warning signs, and some of the symptoms that someone may be presenting with, so that if someone sees it, then they should say something and get the proper help that they need,” said Coggan.

The law gives schools two years to figure out how this will be implemented. While some schools in Kern County already have similar programs in place, Coggan said the rest are waiting for guidance to come down from the California Department of Education to move on to the next steps.

California Senate Bill 224