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California looks to add 10,000 mental health clinicians to public schools

State legislation has also been proposed to include mental health education as part of California's public school curriculum.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — As the pandemic approaches the two-year mark, kids and teens are experiencing increased rates of depression and anxiety, and emergency rooms are seeing more young people suspected of trying to harm themselves. 

In light of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently declared a national state of emergency in children's mental health, and California schools are responding.

"We are definitely seeing higher incidences of depression," said psychiatrist Dr. Gaurav Mishra, Chief Behavioral Health Officer for San Ysidro Health. "We are seeing a lot more anxiety." 

Dr. Mishra said the disruption caused by the pandemic to schools has had a profound impact on our children's and teens' mental health as well as their ability to seek help.

"Many kids are waiting much longer," Mishra said. "And their symptoms are progressing a lot further before they get help."

It is an issue seen throughout the country. The CDC has reported a rise in the number of emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts by adolescents, especially girls.

"We know that the pandemic has had an impact on all children and on learning," said Tony Thurmond, California's superintendent for public instruction. "But we know that our students are resilient."

Thurmond hopes to tackle these issues head-on, proposing on Wednesday to bring 10,000 additional mental health clinicians to California's public schools.

"By having these mental health experts placed directly in schools, we are hoping that children will find these resources much more accessible," said Raquel Herriott of Family Health Centers of San Diego, the county's largest provider of outpatient mental health services.

"I think once we de-stigmatize mental health, children are a lot more likely to go out and seek resources," Herriott added. 

To that end, state legislation has also been proposed to include mental health education as part of California's public school curriculum, at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

"I really feel this education piece is really going to go a long way, making it OK to talk about mental health and make kids feel they are not alone in this," Dr. Mishra said. 

This proposal to increase mental health clinicians on campus is projected to cost $250 million. While the funding source is not clear at this point, Superintendent Thurmond is working with lawmakers, hoping to introduce legislation on this in the coming weeks.

WATCH RELATED: State superintendent addressing learning loss during pandemic

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