Gavin Newsom

Gavin Newsom photo by Wikipedia user Mike D.

published on August 18, 2022 - 2:55 PM
Written by Ben Hensley

Gov. Gavin Newsom held a press conference at Fresno’s McLane High School Thursday to promote his plan to bolster mental health services for California schoolchildren.

Educational leaders and local representatives were also present, as well as McLane senior Aliyah Barajas, who shared her experiences and struggles with mental health, furthering the case for additional services in the K-12 system and beyond.

Newsom outlined his previously announced plan, a $4.7 billion focus on universal screening and support services for children and young adults aged 0-25, and announced a minimum amount of 10,000 in-school counselors, in addition to 40,000 behavioral health workers in the plan.

“That 40,000 workforce comes with an additional $1.4 billion in backing, in addition to $4.7,” Newsom said. “That numeric will allow us to at least double the number of staff.”

Newsom thanked Barajas and other children and young adults who have led the charge in bringing awareness to the mental health pandemic, adding that his office has been working to implement expanded mental and behavioral health services since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic emphasized the need to expand these services.

“We went out, we looked at the best practices nationally, and found some of the smartest minds out there on how to truly communicate, in a culturally competent way, the issues,” Newsom said.

“We’re not proposing this; we’re doing this.”

Oversight for the proposal includes guidance and tool kits that have been put together to ensure that the community is actively engaged in addressing the efforts.

“In this plan specifically there are 14 work streams; four specific areas of focus,” Newsom said. “Those work streams have teams that are cross-jurisdictional as it relates to oversight and technical assistance.”

Later in the briefing, Newsom added that the recent surge in school shootings was not a direct factor influencing the implementation of the proposal, but he is hopeful that it will play a part in reducing such incidents.

He attributed Columbia University’s recent study on mental health and its relation to gun violence, revealing that approximately 5% of all mass shootings are related to severe mental health issues.

“It’s not the answer to that, but it is an answer to that,” he said. “I find a lot of lazy punditry talking about gun violence as a mental health issue.”

Barajas, a senior at McLane, shared her personal story, reflecting on her feeling the effects of depression as young as age 10.

“At the time, I didn’t understand the weight of these feelings and actions,” she said. “I know I’m not the first or last 10-year-old girl who had to go through that.”

Newsom and many in attendance praised Barajas’ courage to share her personal experiences.

“I know firsthand the positive change that we’re going to see from these investments and focus into students’ mental health,” she added. “It will make a difference and I can’t wait to see what happens.”

Newsom himself discussed his own personal experience, sharing that his grandfather took his own life due to the effects of depression.

“Society becomes how we behave and we have a responsibility to do something about it,” he said.

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