San Diego police are seeing an increase in mental health calls to schools

San Diego Police removed 30 students last school year for a 72-hour mental health hold, more than double for the 2019/2020 school year.

SAN DIEGO – A youth mental health crisis is raging across the country, including in San Diego.

According to data obtained by CBS 8, the San Diego Police Department is responding to more mental health calls at San Diego area schools than in previous years.

Numbers show that 16 students at local elementary, middle and high schools in San Diego were removed by police and placed in mental health reservations in 2019-2020. Although local schools became remote, the SDPD responded to 10 calls the following year. Last year, it nearly doubled from the previous two and 30 students were admitted in the midst of a mental health crisis.

The sharp rise in mental health in local schools is similar to that seen across the state.

In August, hoping to address mental health issues stemming from the pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom pledged $4.7 billion in state funds to “reimagine mental health and substance abuse services.” Reads a press release.

Also in August, State Comptroller Tony Thurmond announce that his office has awarded $20,000 in grants to 10,000 school counselors to help children with anxiety, depression, or self-esteem issues.

“This is an important moment,” read an August 4 statement from Thurmond. “Our students deserve and need more support, and we are grateful that there are resources that we can use to help them. We know that it will take time to create many of these comprehensive services for our students to recover, heal, and thrive, which is why it is important to begin this work immediately.” .

But benefits from this and other programs likely won’t emerge for some time, leaving local mental health advocates and nonprofit organizations to have to dedicate more resources to helping young people in need.

Walter Phillips is the CEO of the company San Diego Youth ServicesAn organization that has provided a range of resources to children and youth in San Diego for more than 50 years.

Philips tells CBS 8 that the numbers barely scratch the surface of the bigger issues. While noting the increase in calls to the SDPD, it is important to note all other children with mental health issues, not just those who have had to be physically removed from schools.

“At San Diego Youth Services alone, we are just one nonprofit organization in the community that works with schools and the community around children’s mental health. We have served nearly 11,000 youth and families through our preventive intervention and treatment programs,” Phillips said.

Data obtained by CBS 8 also shows that the calls are evenly distributed across age groups, with high schools reporting only one more mental health call than elementary school students, and two more calls for middle school children.

CBS 8 reached out to Thurmond’s state superintendent’s office for an update on grants for new school counselors but there was no response.

A spokesperson for the California Department of Education said:

“Employing mental health care providers to serve in our schools is a key priority for State Comptroller Tony Thurmond and the California Department of Education (CDE). Based on the bill Thurmond sponsored, SB 1229, the budget includes $184 million for teacher and school counselor residency programs and expansion of the residency program The current $350 million fund includes school counsellors.

In addition, Thurmond and CDE received budget funding through the Golden State Teacher Grant Program that provides up to $20,000 in grants to individuals to serve in a priority school in California for four years, within eight years of completing the preparation program.

“This is a big step,” the spokesperson said. “Students’ mental health needs are everywhere—with COVID still in our midst, the threat of natural disasters due to climate change, and two years of health, social, economic, and political challenges affecting Californians of every race, gender, income level, and zip code—often more impact on those who have been marginalized and traditionally disadvantaged.”

The spokesperson added, “Student mental health will continue to be a priority as we build systems and structure for the needs of today and the future. As our work continues, we will partner with the California Student Assistance Commission and the California Commission on Teacher Accreditation to help launch an online application and website and help with outreach.”

San Diego Unified said it is working to address the rise in mental health-related calls in the district’s schools while acknowledging that the district as well as others around the country are working hard to do the same.

“While it is difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the additional people seeking mental health services across the country and within San Diego Consolidated, the lack of service providers, including psychologists, licensed mental health clinicians and school counselors, has exacerbated the problem. Like many other school districts, San Diego Unified has seen an increase in calls related to mental health services over recent years.”

To show how bad the problem is, a district spokesperson provided the number of calls from the same time this year compared to previous years.

From July 1, 2022 through November 20, there have been 55 calls for mental health issues in district schools. This compares to 46 during the same period last year and only seven in the 2020/2021 academic year.

“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego Unified has made mental health awareness and care a focus of the district,” said a district spokesperson. “In addition to other measures, we have partnered with several community service providers to expand access to on-site mental health services to students on all of our campuses, regardless of family income or insurance status. In addition, the district continues to partner with the county’s behavioral health To provide resources, including drug and alcohol treatment programs, individual counseling services, and family support.”

Related watch: California is investing $4.7 billion in a master plan for children’s mental health

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