California Passes New Youth Suicide Prevention Laws

October 17, 2019 Updated: October 17, 2019

California has implemented in the last two months three new pieces of legislation aimed at addressing youth suicide and bullying.

AB-1767, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 9, expands existing law that requires suicide prevention programs in schools to start in kindergarten instead of seventh grade. The new policy is required to be ready before the 2020-21 school year.

The two other bills, AB-984 and AB-34, created a Suicide Prevention Voluntary Contribution Fund for taxpayers and require schools to post easily accessible information on bullying and harassment prevention on local websites.

Meanwhile, the Oct. 13 death of a 10-year-old girl in Santa Ana is being investigated as an apparent suicide. Detectives are looking into whether the fifth-grader may have been a victim of bullying.

A study in the Journal of Pediatrics published last year analyzed results from the California School Climate, Health, and Learning Surveys (CalSCHLS), and found that nearly one in five high school students had suicidal thoughts.

The survey, given to ninth and 11th-graders, asked students if they’ve “seriously considered suicide” in the past year and if they actually attempted suicide. The data collected is part of an effort to collect new data, raise awareness, and provide preventative solutions for students struggling with suicide, depression and mental health.

In 2017, Pew Research reported 3.2 million teenagers aged 12 to 17 experienced “one major depressive episode in the last year,” an 8 percent increase from 2007. Suicide was found to be the second-leading cause of death in the United States in 2015 for ages 10 to 24.

Causes and Solutions

While social media usage coupled with depression in teens continues to be widely debated, some clinical psychologists believe the two go hand in hand. In a 2017 blog post on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, psychologist Dr. Jeff Nalin argued that “social media can cause depression and other problems,” including decreased social skills, cyberbullying and pressure to fit in among peers.

Dr. Avishek Adhikari, a behavioral neuroscience professor at UCLA and a member of the Brain Research Institute, believes there is a correlation between social media and depressive symptoms, but that studies “can’t really say that social media causes those symptoms.”

“Right now it’s all correlations, but there’s no way of saying what the causes are,” Dr. Adhikari told The Epoch Times. “And it’s certainly not a California-specific issue.”

Dr. Adhikari pointed out that there are measures known to increase mood symptoms that are also changing. For example, having a strong social network, such as family, friends or a support system, increases resilience against mood disorders in adolescents.

“We also know that those measures have been steadily falling in recent years,” Dr. Adhikari said. “Being outside in nature, having strong social ties, those are things that are performed less. Spending a lot of time on social media, a combination of many different causes or it could be something that is completely outside of our radars.”

Dr. Jessica Borelli, an associate professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine, agreed with Dr. Adhikari’s sentiments.

“For most people, social connections are our oxygen — deprive us of our connections and we will wither away,” she said. “In teens, the time cycle of this may be exaggerated, perhaps particularly with social media. They rely a great deal on their social connections and the validation they get through social media for their self-worth.”

Dr. Borelli said adults should be sure to “pay attention to teens’ changing emotional states, outwardly express an interest in and desire to understand teens’ emotional states, offer resources when a teen is struggling, and encourage teens to prioritize health and well-being over academic or other achievement.”

If you or someone you know struggles with depression, anxiety or considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

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