"We must do more about teen mental health" says Assemblyman Kevin Kiley

by Placerville Newswire / Apr 08, 2018 / comments

[Assemblyman Kevin Kiley]

In 2016 Oak Ridge High School student Tifany Wong had a conversation with an emotionally troubled classmate and decided to take action. She held a concert to benefit her initiative to provide mental health training to personnel at El Dorado Hills schools. A year later Oak Ridge student Stephen Bernard started a club on campus to promote mental health awareness and help students cope with stress and anxiety.

In our local communities students, teachers and school leaders are stepping up to confront the growing challenge of adolescent mental health. It is time for the California Legislature to follow their lead. We must do more to address what is among the most urgent and important issues facing young people today.

More than three million teens say they struggle with debilitating depression and six million with anxiety. The consequences are often tragic. Between 2007 and 2015 rates of suicide have doubled among teenage girls and jumped 30 percent among teenage boys. In 2010 Los Angeles Unified School District reported 255 instances of suicidal behavior; just five years later, that figure had risen to 5,000. As teen suicide rates decline across the developed world, they have surged to become the second leading cause of death of young Americans.

Teen drug abuse is also on the rise. Until a few years ago teen deaths caused by drug overdose had been declining. Between 2014 and 2015, however, they rose by 19 percent, primarily fueled by addiction to opiates, which many teens use as an antidepressant. With an estimated 120,000 American adolescents currently addicted to opioids, the trend will almost certainly worsen.

A few bills moving through the state Legislature are a good start toward addressing the problem. One would serve to focus the state’s mental health spending on prevention and early intervention; another would bolster support for school counselors; and a third, which I have authored, would both introduce more accountability over mental health care spending and improve data sharing between state and local government.

But improving access to treatment can only be part of the solution. We must also focus on the conditions that lead to rising rates of teen depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness — an approach that will require contending with root causes. Here solutions become less obvious and policies harder to implement as we wrestle with possible factors ranging from economic stressors to academic pressure to social media use.

As a first step I am requesting the Assembly Education Committee convene an informational hearing on adolescent mental health, where we can learn more about different approaches schools are taking across the state. With input from parents, education leaders, mental health experts and students, we can better understand what is working so we can do more of it and where kids are falling through the cracks. This is hard work, but it must start now.

Assemblyman Kevin Kiley represents the 6th Assembly District, which includes parts of El Dorado, Placer and Sacramento counties. On Saturday, April 21, he will host a community coffee from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at El Dorado Hills Fire Station 85 (1050 Wilson Blvd.).