SACRAMENTO –California’s Assembly today approved a measure to create a statewide Office of Suicide Prevention on a 61 to 0 vote. Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland) said he introduced AB 2112 in early February. “California and the world have drastically changed since then,” Ramos added.
Ramos observed that over the past several months, California and the nation are facing huge spikes in calls to mental health hotlines. “More than ever, the state needs a focused, coordinated, forward looking approach to suicide prevention.” In 2017, California saw more than 4,300 violent deaths caused by suicide and 34,371 emergency room visits linked to suicide attempts, according to a report published last year by the California Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission.
The lawmaker added that even as COVID-19’s physical isolation lessens because people can spend more time with loved ones or on the job, impacts from the pandemic still pose a threat to the mental health of California residents.
Grief from the loss of family members and friends remain after the immediate crisis passes. Also, financial uncertainty will pose ongoing burdens. “Unfortunately, with the crisis we’ve also seen spikes in other mental health related issues that may cause additional increases in thoughts of suicide – substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse.”
Among other tasks, the state Office of Suicide Prevention would be charged with the following:
- Providing strategic guidance to statewide and regional partners regarding best prevention practices;
- Requiring the new office to focus resources on the highest risk groups such as youth, Native American youth, older adults, veterans, and LGBTQ persons;
- Conducting state evaluations of regional and state suicide prevention policies;
- Reviewing data to identify opportunities to reduce suicide, including documenting aborted suicide attempts and crisis service interventions;
- Marshalling the insights and energy of medical professionals, scientists, public health experts and others to address the crisis;
- Disseminating information to achieve statewide progress, including coordinated and culturally appropriate campaigns to reach populations with high suicide rates;
- Reporting to the Legislature on progress in reducing suicide rates.
- Toby Ewing, executive director of the mental services commission, said, “Research does suggest the number of lives lost to suicide will increase as a result of COVID-19, yet results of the commission’s work on the state’s Suicide Prevention Plan also show that lives can be saved.” He continued, “Putting in place the state-level leadership to support our counties, school districts, private sector and community-based partners is foundational for the work that needs to be done.”
Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services, stressed the current danger to young people. The California Alliance is also a bill sponsor. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and worsened California’s alarming epidemic of youth suicide, the second most prevalent cause of death for adolescents,” Stoner said. “In these times, one thing is certain: California must commit to strengthen suicide prevention for youth who will face even greater challenges due to the widespread and grave social and economic disruptions they’re facing."
Ramos is especially concerned about vulnerable youth. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24, according to a 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Also, CDC released 1991-2017 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data that reported that one in six high school students stated they seriously considered ending their lives and more than one in 12 reported attempted suicides. “In 2014, 3,575 children were hospitalized for non-fatal self-inflicted injuries among those aged five to 20 in California. That is heart breaking,” Ramos said. “We can’t let those numbers stand. These children are dear to their families, classmates and friends.”
AB 2112 sponsors are The California Alliance of Child and Family Services and the California Mental Health Services Oversight & Accountability Commission. A partial list of supporters include the American Academy of Pediatrics, California; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; California Children’s Hospital Association; the California Children’s Hospital; the Steinberg Institute; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Bay Area Children's Association; California State PTA; California Teachers Association; California Professional Firefighters; Disability Rights California; California Children’s Association; California Hospital Association/California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems; Children Now; Riverside Sheriffs’ Association; County Behavioral Health Directors Association; the Racial and Ethnic Mental Health Disparities Coalition and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Assemblymember James Ramos proudly represents the 40th Assembly district which includes Highland, Loma Linda, Mentone, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, and San Bernardino.