State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today received a career recognition award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, while calling for increased awareness and funding for mental health and suicide prevention.
Recent suicides by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade, combined with data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealing a significant increase in suicide rates have put a spotlight on this problem.
“Suicide is reaching epidemic proportions in our nation, our state, and our schools, making it even more important to focus on suicide prevention and expanding mental health services,” Torlakson said. “A suicide is a terrible, preventable loss that creates a tragedy for a family, a school, and an entire community.”
Torlakson praised schools for the work underway to prevent suicide, while asking all educators and members of the school community to be on the lookout for students showing signs of risk, and to assist them in seeking treatment. “This is no time for silence. If you notice someone suffering or in need, please speak out and help point them toward assistance,” he said.
Torlakson received the “Allies in Action” award from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for his long public service career of supporting suicide prevention, including his leadership on student mental health issues in California.
The presentation took place after leaders from the foundation spent the day lobbying Congress to provide more resources for mental health services, including suicide prevention.
Suicide rates increased significantly in nearly every U.S. state from 1999 through 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced. Youth suicide is the second-leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 to 24.
Torlakson thanked the California Department of Education (CDE) Student Mental Health Policy Work Group, a panel of expert volunteers, for its work. The group assesses the mental health needs of students and gather evidence to support policy recommendations to Torlakson and the Legislature. Information is available at the CDE Student Mental Health Policy Work Group website.
The work group helped develop and promote a model suicide prevention policy. These policies became mandatory at California’s public schools for grades 7 through grade 12, beginning with the 2017-18 school year.
Torlakson began working on mental health issues as a high school science teacher and coach in the 1970s, and he strongly supported mental health services and funding as a Contra Costa County Supervisor, State Legislator, and State Superintendent. He served in 2004 as state co-chair for Proposition 63, which passed and created a tax on upper-income earners to provide increased funding, personnel, and other resources to support county mental health programs.
Torlakson encouraged people in crisis to use suicide prevention services, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.