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California invests billions for youth mental health services

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $4.7 billion effort to increase access to mental health and substance use support services for young people in California. KPBS reporter Jacob Aere says the effort looks to address the lack of mental health care that was further exposed by the pandemic.

The “Master Plan for Kids’ Mental Health” is aimed at helping kids and other Californians up to age 25.

The plan, announced Thursday, includes training for 40,000 behavioral health professionals, creating an online platform for mental health assessment and intervention, and a suicide prevention program.

“The idea of ‘How do we get ahead of this? How do we prevent things from getting worse? How do we change the trajectory of kids' lives?’ That's what I really like about this plan,” said Dr. Ben Maxwell, interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego.

“Even before the pandemic, we were seeing increased rates of anxiety and depression in kids,” Maxwell said. “Some of those reasons that have been thought through are different sorts of stressors kids experience these days than they did in the past – things like social media, different sorts of school pressure, athletics or pressures at home.”

The kids' mental health plan also calls for doubling the number of school counselors, with a state-funded incentive of helping to pay for their education.

“The last two years, there's been a stacking of stress, the likes of which none of us could have conceived of and none of us hope for in the future,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “And that stacking of stress comes from years and years where we’ve neglected your mental health, neglected investing.”

Nationally, kids are reporting symptoms of depression and anxiety at record rates and are considering or attempting suicide at historic levels.

Maxwell said the pandemic made matters worse, as people are now experiencing more social isolation than they have in the past.

“We know how to make this a better situation. Early identification, early treatment, prevention – we know these work. This gives us the opportunity to put some of those in place here in San Diego County,” he said, regarding the new program.

The plan would also include hiring 10,000 more school counselors and would offer up to $20,000 scholarships for mental health workers who serve in schools for at least two years.

“These investments are going to allow people to join the workforce that otherwise wouldn't be able to,” Maxwell said. “Even people that really like this work, maybe even have training in it, sometimes are economically incentivized to do other things with their career.”

All of the money for the plan has already been appropriated, according to the governor's office. That includes $4.5 billion over the past three years and $200 million that was approved this year.

“For the parents out there, your kids need a friend, they need friends, they need a support system. So make sure you're doing something to help them with that,” Maxwell said.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline through call or text at 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.

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