Senator Portantino Introduces Bill to Implement Mental Health Education and Training in Schools

Tuesday, February 14 2023

For Immediate Release: February 14, 2023

Contact: Lerna Shirinian, (818) 409-0400


Senator Portantino Introduces Bill to Implement Mental Health Education and Training in Schools

Sacramento, California – Today Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – Burbank) introduced Senate Bill 509, a measure that will addresses the growing mental health crisis among California’s youth by implementing mental health education and training in schools.  Communities are grappling with the behavioral health needs of our children post Covid and many of those needs occur on school campuses. 

“We must find additional ways to help our children post Covid. Mental health education and training are critical for school employees to be well-positioned to help,” stated Senator Portantino. “Healthy school environments are crucial to having healthy children.  While we focus necessary attention on first aide training for physical health, we must do the same for behavior health too.”

COVID-19 has increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, suicidality and exacerbated California’s youth mental health crisis. Additionally, approximately 75% of mental illness manifests between the ages of 10 and 24.  Since adolescents visit the doctor less often than any other age group, early warning signs of mental health needs go can undetected.

Under existing law, the California Department of Education is required to identify an evidence-based mental health training program for local educational agencies to use to train teachers and other school personnel who have direct, contact with pupils. However, schools are not mandated to require such training for their staff. This differs from other mandated trainings for school personnel including CPR and Mandated Reporting.

SB 509 will require the California Department of Education to ensure that 75 percent of classified and certificated employees on school campuses complete an evidence-based behavioral health training program. This instruction will guide school staff on how to provide referrals to mental health services, substance use disorder services, or other support to individuals in the early stages of developing a mental illness or substance use disorder.

SB 509 builds on the success of SB 224, a mental health education bill authored by Senator Portantino in 2021, and requires that all students between grades 1 and 12 receive evidence based age-appropriate mental health education from a qualified instructor at least one time during elementary school, one time during middle school, and one time during high school.

"California’s community-based service providers too often see the devastating impact of unaddressed mental health and substance use concerns in young people,” stated Adrienne Shilton, Director of Public Policy and Strategy for the California Alliance of Child and Family Services. “It doesn’t have to be that way. Just as we teach children to have healthy bodies, reaching them early with information on mental health and wellbeing and how to access care is a transformational approach for lifelong mental health. As President Biden said in his State of the Union address, 'When millions of young people are struggling with bullying, violence, trauma, we owe them greater access to mental health care at school.’”

“The behavioral health needs of California students and their families are growing alongside countless new challenges,” stated Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey, CEO of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies. “By empowering school staff with knowledge and training about behavioral health issues, we can help improve the wellbeing of California’s youth.”