SACRAMENTO –The Senate Health Committee today approved a measure to create the first statewide Office of Suicide Prevention on an 8 to 0 vote.
Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland) introduced AB 2112 in early February, and observed that since then the novel coronavirus crisis has added new urgency to suicide prevention efforts.
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.” Last week, Roll Call reported that the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine has received a 65 percent increase in calls and emails since March.
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;
- Reporting to the Legislature on progress in reducing suicide rates.
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.”
Dr. Virgil Moorhead, Executive Director of the Two Feathers Native American Family Services, said youth engagement in this issue is critical. His organization is working actively with tribal and other youth in Humboldt County ages 10 to 18 years old through a Garrett Lee Smith Grant. “This is an epidemic we must stem now,” Moore said. “We can only do it through engaging youth in the battle against suicide. Tribal young people are particularly vulnerable, but they possess the strength and resiliency to overcome this crisis if they are engaged and not overlooked.” He added, “We must monitor and be able to respond nimbly and quickly to dangerous trends and spikes. A statewide office of suicide prevention, with adequate coordination and resources can help us save young lives.”
Eva Terrazas, Vice President for Public Policy at Uplift Family Services, one of state’s largest children’s behavioral health and child welfare agencies, spoke in support of AB 2112. She said, “While suicide prevention efforts are already occurring across the state, we need coordination, clear messages about practices, and vigilant monitoring of suicide data, especially for those with the highest risk of suicide including youth – particularly Native American youth – older adults and LGTBQ people.”
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.