Governor Signs Senator Portantino’s Mental Health Education Bills

Friday, October 8 2021

For Immediate Release: October 8, 2021

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Governor Signs Senator Portantino’s Mental Health Education Bills

Sacramento, California – Senate Bills 14 and 224, authored by State Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Cañada Flintridge), were signed into law today by Governor Newsom – just days before World Mental Health Day.  SB 14 and 224 address the growing mental health crisis among California’s youth by implementing mental health education and training in schools.

“I am very thankful to the Governor for signing SB 14 and 224 into law and recognizing the urgency of implementing policies that give our kids the help they need,” stated Senator Portantino.  “California is in the midst of a youth behavioral health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Although the bills don’t nearly go as far as they should, this is an important step forward.  We need to keep these critical policies moving forward and end the stigma surrounding the discussion of mental health.  Mental health education and training is one of the best ways to increase awareness and empower students to seek help,” he added.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 1 in 3 California high school students surveyed reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row.  Nearly 1 in 5 reported that they have seriously considered attempting suicide.  The Center for Disease Control reports that from March 2020, when the pandemic was declared, to October 2020, emergency department visits were up 24% for children 5 to 11 years of age and 31% for those 12 to 17 years of age, when compared with the same period in 2019.  In the fall of 2020, the number of kids with suicide attempts coming to the emergency room at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital had doubled since the fall of 2019.

SB 14 ensures that student absences for behavioral health concerns will be treated the same as excused absences for physical health concerns.  In addition, SB 14 requires the California Department of Education to recommend best practices and evidence-based mental health trainings to address youth behavioral health, including training for teachers, staff, and students on how to recognize, appropriately respond, and seek help for mental health concerns.

The measure was sponsored by a coalition of behavioral health professionals and mental health advocates led by the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, and supported by the California Behavioral Health Directors Association, Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, Disability Rights California, NextGen California, and importantly, the voices of students including GenUP, California Association of School Councils, and California Student Board Member Association.

“The California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA) and our coalition partners applaud Governor Newsom for signing SB 14 authored by Senator Anthony Portantino,” said Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey, CBHA’s Chief Executive Officer. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, youth behavioral health needs to be a primary focus to protect and promote the well-being of our students. California has once again shown itself to be a leader by implementing this life saving legislation. The work is far from done. Youth are dying, and educators and other school employees need the tools offered by quality behavioral health trainings. CBHA looks forward to continuing to work with our elected leaders to equip our school communities with the tools needed to destigmatize behavioral health care and create supportive learning environments.”

With no state-mandated health education course at the middle or high school level in California, a vast majority of California students do not receive instruction in mental health.  SB 224 requires local educational agencies and charter schools which currently offer one or more courses in health education to middle or high school students to include mental health content in those courses.  SB 224 also requires the California Department of Education to develop a plan to expand mental health instruction in California public schools on or before January 1, 2024.

The measure was supported by a coalition of mental health advocates, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness – California, California Alliance of Child & Family Services, California Association of Student Councils, California Youth Empowerment Network, National Center for Youth Law, and the Children’s Partnership. 

“We are so thrilled that Governor Newsom signed SB 224 into law,” said Jessica Cruz, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI CA). “NAMI-CA has been working on this issue for years, and we are so grateful to have had the strong leadership of Senator Portantino to carry this policy through – and not a moment too soon. Every day, we learn more about the terrible toll this pandemic has taken on our children and youth’s mental health. It is imperative that we enable them to understand the signs and symptoms of mental illness, overcome stigma, and know how to get help early so they can thrive.”

“We are so proud of Governor Gavin Newsom and his Administration for recognizing the impact that SB 224 will have”, said Christine Stoner-Mertz, CEO of the California Alliance of Child and Family Services. “Education can help move mental illness out of the shadows and build a path to treatment. SB 224 calls for reasonably designed instruction in middle and high schools on the overarching themes and core principles of mental health. With the signing of SB 224, California will prioritize supporting our children and youth by bringing mental health awareness into schools. This bill will go a long way to improve the well-being of our children and youth at school, at home, and within their communities.”

SB 14 and SB 224 were introduced earlier this year and reflect Senator Portantino’s dedication to improving mental health outcomes for youth.  The Senator previously authored SB 972, which required schools to print the suicide hotline on student identification cards.  Additionally, the Senator dedicated three years to pass SB 328, which pushes back school start times for middle and high schools.