New bill hopes to turn tide of teen suicide

Sen. Melissa Hurtado co-authors bill requiring counties to develop a suicide prevention plan


SACRAMENTO – Tulare and Kern Counties have some of the highest teen suicide rates in the state and suicide rates for teenage girls are at a 40-year high.

In effort to address this startling statistic, Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) and state legislators from other areas with high rates of youth suicide co-authored a bill to help turn the tide of teen suicides. 

On Feb. 20, Sen. Hurtado, along with Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) and Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), introduced SB 331, which will require that all California counties develop a suicide prevention plan while focusing on the staggering rise in deaths among adolescents.

Melissa Hurtado State Senator, District 14

Melissa Hurtado
State Senator
District 14

“In the last ten years, California has experienced an overall rise in deaths by suicide. For every 100,000 adolescents between the ages of 15 and 24, we’re seeing that counties like Kern and Tulare are encountering some of the highest suicide rates,” said Sen. Hurtado. 

Between 2012 and 2015, the most recent numbers available, Kern County had a youth suicide rate of 11.5 per 100,000, the highest in the state, and Tulare County had a rate of 10.5 per 100,000, the fifth highest in the state. By comparison, Fresno County had the fifth lowest rate in the entire state at 7.4 per 100,000. Fresno County is one of only seven counties to have adopted a suicide-prevention strategic plan. 

“California’s counties must act to stem the state’s tragic rise in suicide rates. To do so, they need strategic suicide-prevention plans that focus special attention on children under the age of 19,” stated Maggie Merritt, Executive Director of the Steinberg Institute. Merritt continued by stating that “a handful of counties have taken the initiative to develop such plans on their own, but it is too important to wait on the others to follow suit, so state must show the way.” 

Another of those counties, Santa Clara, has had a concerted suicide-prevention effort since 2010, and has implemented a suicide-prevention strategic plan, which have helped to reduce suicide deaths 11 to 14 percent while the overall suicide rate in California is increasing.

“I am pleased to co-author SB 331, requiring all counties to develop a suicide prevention strategic plan for youth. Santa Clara County is one of only seven counties that have developed a suicide prevention strategic plan and all other counties should follow suit,” said Sen. Beall. “In the last decade, youth suicide has increased across California and is now the second leading cause of death for adolescents. We need to stop this epidemic and I commend Senator Hurtado’s leadership on this very important issue.”

Youth suicide and self-inflicted injury is on the rise, and is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 14 to 24 in the U.S. In California, almost 20 percent of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year, with almost one-half (49 percent) of LGBTQ students reporting suicidal ideation – more than three times the estimate compared to their straight peers.

“Alarmingly, suicide rates for teenage girls have hit a 40-year high. With SB 331, our counties have the opportunity to create a suicide prevention plan that will address this crisis,” stated Assemblymember Levine. “Losing a loved one to suicide is devastating. We must do more to prevent the growing number of suicides in our communities.”

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