Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill by Assemblyman James C. Ramos, a Democrat from Highland, to establish a statewide suicide prevention office amid spiking calls to crisis hotlines and mental health professionals expressing increased concerns about the mental health impacts from COVID-19.

This comes after a state audit report on youth suicide prevention. The report found that school districts lack the resources and policies necessary to address rising youth suicide rates and self-harm effectively.

“The state auditor's report on the lack of resources and policies for our children is a loud and clear call to action,” said Ramos. “It serves to guide policymakers about what we need to do to help save the lives of our children. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native American youth, and rural and northern parts of our state are also hit hard by this tragedy which rips apart families and communities.”

The audit found that from 2009 to 2018, the number of youth suicides increased by 15% statewide, and self-harm incidents increased by 50%.  

The audit recommends that schools employ more mental health professionals, invest in school-based health centers and draw down federal reimbursement funds to provide mental health resources to students.

Clark Morrow, San Bernardino County Sheriff Department school safety professional, said the effort to provide resources to students is ongoing.

“I offer about a dozen different presentations to schools on topics such as drug trends, sexting and suicide prevention, and schools have always been eager to take advantage of them,” said Morrow.

Last year, Redlands Unified hosted one of Morrow's presentations titled, “Trends Among Teens.” The presentation touched on youth suicide and how parents could recognize warning signs.  

“It seems schools and districts could always use more counseling staff, and I know they make every effort to secure more,” said Morrow. “The Sheriff's Department works with districts closely through efforts like the annual Gangs and Drugs Task Force School Safety Summit. During crisis response training, deputies are trained in how to deal compassionately and effectively with students on the autism spectrum.”  

Morrow said the pandemic has made schools more aware of the mental health of their students.

“Suicide rates across the board are rising because of enforced isolation,” said Morrow. “My belief is that our schools are making strong and persistent efforts to provide as much help to young people as they can. The districts have been active and engaged partners with the Sheriff's Department. I think the necessary policies are in place, but consistent enforcement is always an ongoing challenge.”  ­