There is a mental health crisis in our schools, and California’s leaders are doing something about it. Last month, the state Legislature unanimously passed Senate Bill 428, which expands access to trainings that will help teachers and school staff recognize and act on the mental health needs of their students.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Population Affairs, 1 in 3 high schoolers reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row. Each child’s suffering manifests in unique ways. In my daughter Alliy’s case, she revealed her depression in a school journal. Sadly, her silent struggle culminated in her suicide at the age of 15.
Alliy was an incredible and persistent girl, who won awards for swimming and was an accomplished pianist. She excelled at math and science and had been awarded a scholarship to Mills College. She was the oldest of four children, and she was very kind and caring to her siblings. Although she struggled inside, Alliy was very good at masking her emotions to the outside world.
After Alliy’s death, the school gave us her journal. It was the first time I had seen it, and it was filled with handwritten accounts of her inner turmoil. During testimony I gave before the California Senate Education Committee last April in support of SB 428, I shared the following journal excerpts:
“Sometimes I think about dying,” Alliy wrote. “Okay, a lot of the time. But, I think about life too. How much pain do I have to go through before I can let go without being judged? More than this, apparently.” That was written on Dec. 13.
I blame no one for my daughter’s death. But looking back, I recognize that there were opportunities for the teachers, coaches and family members in Alliy’s life to intervene and possibly save her. Everyday young people across California are facing similar challenges, and the statistics are heartbreaking: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. The suicide rate has grown steadily over the past two decades. Nearly 1 in 6 high school students have seriously considered attempting suicide, and 1 in 12 have attempted suicide at least once.
That’s why I am grateful to senators Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, for introducing SB 428. Their bill ensures that teachers and staff on every secondary school campus are trained in programs like Youth Mental Health First Aid, which teaches the necessary skills to recognize and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse in youth. It’s the school personnel that have daily access to our children and are on the frontlines of the youth mental health crisis.
This legislation is now on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, and I strongly encourage him to sign it into law. It is a step toward fulfilling the commitment Newsom made during the 2018 elections to “launch a campaign to train our teachers, counselors, first responders and pediatricians in how to recognize early signs of mental illness.”
Though my personal advocacy was borne out of tragedy, it has been an incredible honor for me to share Alliy’s story. My heart is warmed knowing lives will be saved if SB 428 is signed into law, and I am optimistic that it will be.