Approved on California Native American Day, measure will help stem mental health dilemma plaguing state’s tribal populations
SACRAMENTO – Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill by Assemblymember James C. Ramos (D-Highland) to establish a statewide office of suicide prevention amidst spiking calls to crisis hotlines and mental health professionals expressing increased concerns about the mental health impacts from COVID-19.
Ramos said his measure, which takes effect in January, impacts all Californians, but especially the state’s Native Americans. “While suicide rates are highest among whites (at 17.1 per 100,000 people), Native American rates (at 15.6 per 100,000) follow closely behind, according to a December 2019 report by the Mental Health Oversight and Accountability Commission. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaska Native children as well as adults ages 10 to 34, according to the same report,” Ramos said. “We must reduce this painful loss and grief in our communities,” he added.
“I am deeply appreciative of the governor’s approval of this critically needed mental health measure. I am also gratified by the vast network of health care providers who supplied their knowledge, experience and dedication to support of this measure to save lives and create a more proactive approach to preventing the tragic loss of life due to suicide.”
Ramos observed the pandemic is creating heightened public wariness. “Recently the Centers for Disease Control reported responses to a June survey of 5,142 adults across the country. More than 40 percent of those surveyed reported that the novel coronavirus created mental stress in their lives, and 11 percent said they had seriously considered suicide in the last 30 days. Those responses are deeply disturbing and also begin to quantify what many mental health professionals suspect: the pandemic is aggravating an existing crisis.”
AB 2112 would:
- Provide strategic guidance to statewide and regional partners regarding best prevention practices;
- Require the new office to focus resources on the highest risk groups such as youth, Native American youth, older adults, veterans and LGBTQ persons;
- Conduct state evaluations of regional and state suicide prevention policies;
- Review data to identify opportunities to reduce suicide, including documenting aborted suicide attempts and crisis service interventions;
- Marshall the insights and energy of medical professionals, scientists, public health experts and others to address the crisis;
- Report to the Legislature on progress in reducing suicide rates.
“The passage of AB 2112 is a critical step towards developing a statewide approach to suicide prevention, especially for those most vulnerable: youth, and particularly Native American youth and youth from underserved and under-resourced communities, older adults and LGBTQ+ individuals,” said Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services (CACFS). “CACFS applauds Governor Gavin Newsom for recognizing that the State of California can and should be an active participant and leader in suicide prevention efforts."
Youth are particularly vulnerable. 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 one in six high school students stated they seriously considered ending their lives and more than one in 12 reported attempted suicides.
Dr. Virgil Moorhead, executive director of the Two Feathers Native American Family Services, said youth engagement in this issue is critical. His organization is actively working with tribal and other youth in Humboldt County who are aged 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.”
“Establishing state-level leadership to support local efforts to push for long-term reductions in death by suicide is the lead recommendation in Striving for Zero, the State’s new strategic plan for suicide prevention,” said Lynne Ashbeck, Chair of the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission. “The plan is anchored in years of suicide research and we applaud the Legislature’s approval of this important first step in saving lives in California.”
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 includes the American Academy of Pediatrics—California; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; California Children’s Hospital Association; 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.