State to fund suicide prevention training for schools

Bill will make online program available at no cost to districts

Gov. Jerry Brown set aside today $1.7 million to fund online suicide prevention training for all public middle and high school students and staff in California.

In signing the final state budget, Brown approved an education omnibus trailer bill that appropriates the funding. The trailer bill includes Assembly Bill 2369, which Assemblyman Marc Berman, D-Palo Alto, introduced earlier this year to require the California Department of Education to provide funding to make training available to public schools across the state, including charter schools.

"It is imperative that administrators, teachers, and students have the knowledge, tools, and resources to recognize the warning signs and respond to students who need help," Berman said in a press release. "Too many of our communities across California, including in the 24th Assembly District, have been affected by youth suicides. This funding is a critical step in preventing these tragedies by identifying the best online youth suicide prevention training and making it available to schools for free."

The bill requires the state Department of Education to identify one or more evidence-based online training programs and then provide grants to county offices of education to acquire and disseminate the programs for free to school districts.

The training program must be evidence-based; be consistent with the model pupil suicide prevention policy developed by the California Department of Education; address the needs of high-risk groups, such as LGBTQ youth; track aggregate, statewide usage; and evaluate knowledge before and after the training is provided in order to measure its impact.

Existing law requires school districts to have suicide prevention policies that also must address training on suicide awareness and prevention for teachers.

Teachers across the Palo Alto school district participate in "Promoting Emotional Wellness for PK-12 Students," an online training tool, and staff on crisis teams receive additional training.

The press release from Berman's office notes that youth suicide is on the rise and is now the second leading cause of death among those 10 to 24 years of age, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The suicide rate for middle school students is also at an all-time high.

Youth suicide has increased in Santa Clara County since 2003, though the rates of suicide among youth in the county and state are lower than the national rate, the CDC found in a recent investigation into youth suicide in Santa Clara County.

Research on the preparedness of school staff to recognize warning signs and respond to youth in crisis, however, shows "a lack of experience, training, and confidence to appropriately address mental health issues and suicide ideation among students," Berman's office stated.

Berman is behind several other pieces of suicide-prevention legislation. Last year, he co-sponsored a bill, signed into law, that requires that all licensed psychologists be trained in suicide risk assessment and intervention. Berman also co-authored Assembly Bill 1436, which would require a licensed marriage and family therapist, educational psychologist, clinical social worker, or professional clinical counselor to do the same. The bill has yet to reach the governor's desk.

Berman introduced last year a vetoed bill that would have required school districts to consider whether a mandatory expulsion or zero tolerance policy related to substance abuse could deter students from seeking help.

Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can also call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Additional resources can be found here.

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