Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Rep. Scott Peters hosts roundtable with middle school students on mental health

As children head back to school, there is a renewed focus on children's mental health crisis.

According to Rady Children's Hospital, pediatric mental health emergencies have increased more than 20-fold in the past decade.

Dr. Ben Maxwell, the interim director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego, said students today are feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders because they are more connected than before.


“The more, we can find ways to help kids manage those stressors and manage the information that's coming in through their phones or through their screens or through computers — just this connected world we live in — I think the better we can support them,” he said.

That’s where the Suicide Training and Awareness Nationally Delivered for Universal Prevention Act or STANDUP Act introduced by Rep. Scott Peters comes in. It was inspired by what students at Bernardo Heights Middle School in Rancho Bernardo told him at a roundtable in 2019. The act was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 2022.

The law prioritizes funding for awareness and prevention of school gun violence and suicide. Peters said middle school students are the target audience for these policies, and it’s important to hear what they have to say.

Students at Monday's roundtable, including some who were there at the 2019 roundtable, told both Peters and Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm about some of the challenges they face, including bullying, suicide and school shootings.

Rep. Scott Peters (green tie) along with Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm (left) speaking to students at Bernardo Heights Middle School, Sept. 11, 2023.
Alexander Nguyen
Rep. Scott Peters (green tie) along with Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm (left) speaking to students at Bernardo Heights Middle School, Sept. 11, 2023.

One student said having active shooter drills made her think about things that she hadn't thought about before.


“Am I going to protect myself? What if I'm with my family? What if I'm with my friends?" she said. "That kind of thinking was because of the active shooter drills that I've been doing since I was in kindergarten at my school.”

Another student said with the increase in gun violence at schools, students have become somewhat desensitized to them.

“They're so desensitized to the fact that some of them joke about it and make it seem like, 'Oh, it's no big deal,'" Elle Pedersen, a student at Bernardo Heights Middle, said. "I remember when our school had a shooting threat and we had to go into a lockdown. It was a big deal and a lot of kids were scared."

Hearing that was sobering for Palm.

"This conversation just really speaks to how much more complicated your lives are than for the previous generation of kids and youth," she said. "You're facing things that we never had to face."

"My kids went to middle school in the '90s, they didn't go through all these active shooter drills. I think Columbine was '99 if I remember (correctly)," Peters said.

Maxwell said Rady Children's started seeing an increase in pediatric psychiatric emergencies around 2012.

"If you look at back in around 2010, 2012, we would see somewhere around 150 or 300 patients in psychiatric crisis in our general emergency department," he said. "This past fiscal year we saw over 4,700, (it) was almost 28 times what it was 10 years ago. So — real need — clearly a crisis that's going on in the youth mental health of our kids."

At this year's roundtable, several students brought up media literacy as a real need in a politically divisive time when facts don't seem to matter anymore.

“They came up with some pretty good ideas, among them media literacy, so we understand social media better, support for parents — not just for students or not just for teachers and administrators," he said. "And also continued funding for mental health programs in schools. That's the kind of feedback we need.”

Sam Boyce was there in 2019 for the roundtable with Peters. He said it was incredible to see legislation put in place for what they raised concerns about.

“Especially with the suicide rates going up and just the overall stigma around mental health," he said. "In middle school and high school, I've seen it firsthand. I've had my own mental health struggles and I feel that it's just such an important thing that people need to talk about.”

According to Maxwell, the pediatric psychiatric crisis is showing no signs of slowing down.

The North County Focus newsletter is your bi-weekly guide to all the news coming from North County, plus a handpicked selection of events and trivia tidbits.