SMHPW Policy Recommendation 5Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup (SMHPW) fifth recommendation to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Recommendation 5: Support Assembly Bill 2246 (O’Donnell) for School Board Policies for Youth Suicide Prevention
Background: Youth in Crisis
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages fifteen through nineteen in the United States.
In 2013, 149 California students of ages fifteen through nineteen took their lives. In 2014, there were 2,276 non-fatal suicide attempts by California students in this age group.
More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, anxiety disorder (including post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks), eating disorders, and/or alcohol and substance abuse. Yet less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental illnesses receive needed treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
A policy which addresses suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention could help school staff identify and assist hundreds of young people in California who are at risk for suicide by linking them to appropriate school and community services.
Assembly Bill 2246 (O’Donnell) would require that the governing board of a local educational agency (LEA) that serves pupils in grades seven through twelve adopt a policy on suicide prevention at a regular school board meeting before the beginning of the 2017–18 school year. The board policy must be developed in consultation with school and community stakeholders, school-employed mental health professionals, and suicide prevention experts. At a minimum, the board policy must address procedures relating to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.
AB 2246 does not require Administrative Regulations (AR) such as those found in the California School Boards Association’s (CSBA) sample AR 5141.52, which requires staff training. The bill has no renewal provision for updating the policy.
AB 2246 would require the State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SSPI) to develop and maintain a model policy to serve as a guide for LEAs which could be the same as the already existing model developed by the CSBA.
This legislation is consistent with the SSPI’s July 2014 letter encouraging California school district superintendents and charter school administrators to adopt suicide prevention policies.
While California legislators have currently proposed more than 2,000 bills related to mental heatlh care, Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup (SMHPW) members felt that AB 2246 is the bill most likely to help reduce the number of suicides among California’s students. While many other bills are worthy of the SSPI’s support, AB 2246 is urgently needed to save young lives in California’s public school system.
Recognizing that suicide is a major cause of death among young people, the SMHPW recommends that the SSPI support AB 2246 (O’Donnell).
The bill would further support the SSPI’s initiative for suicide prevention by requiring school districts and other LEAs serving students in grades seven through twelve to adopt a pupil suicide prevention policy. District policies could vary based on local board decisions but would be developed in consultation with school and community stakeholders, school-employed mental health professionals, and suicide prevention experts and would, at a minimum, address suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.