Identification cards contain reforms that aim to address student mental health

September 10, 2019 — by Brandon Wang and Nitya Marimuthu

After a new state law (Senate Bill-972) was passed in September 2018, student identification cards are required to have the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Crisis Text Line printed on them starting on July 1, 2019. 

As a result, the school has replaced the backside of the IDs, which previously contained the Red and Blue Day schedule, with the necessary resources. The school website plans to also have the lines and additional resources accessible. 

Assemblymember Anthony J. Portatino wrote the law in hopes of fostering “an open dialogue about suicide and to help prevent these horrific tragedies,” according to Portatino’s website

The analysis of the bill states the finer details on the need for the accessibility to the suicide hotline, especially for teenagers. In an April 2016 report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increase in the national suicide rate by 24 percent between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 deaths per 100,000 to 13.0.

The CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also conducted a survey of the Santa Clara County and found that Palo Alto and Morgan Hills have seen the highest rates of suicide for people between the ages of 10 and 24. 

In addition, the new law aims to provide help to those suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. Statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics show that at least 90 percent of teens who commit suicide suffer from mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse or behavioral problems. This clear correlation between mental health issues and suicide makes preventative action imperative.

The law also aims to lessen the stigma against using helplines, such as the Crisis Text Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Those who use the helplines sometimes don’t know what to expect out of the resource, and calling them can be daunting. 

The value of the helplines lies in their 24/7 availability.  Students often fall into crises at times where a counselor might not be physically available, assistant principal Kerry Mohnike said. “These crises happen at 10 at night and 1 in the morning or when people are really feeling down,” she said. “So this is a way to say, ‘I have this on the back of my ID card; at least I know there’s a number there.’”

In the end, the bill aims to take action against a growing crisis. For Portatino, the chance of preventing just one suicide was reason enough to pass this bill.

“As a father and a legislator, the safety of our children continues to be a priority,” Portatino said on his website. “If one life can be saved through this bill then all of our efforts will have been worth it.”

Students generally welcomed this change to the ID cards. Despite having uncertainties about the efficacy of the hotlines, freshman Allison Tan said the addition is “thoughtful” and called it a positive step to reaching out to those who struggle with mental health issues. 

“I’m not so sure that too many people will use it,” Tan said. “But I think people will see it as a good reminder to keep their head up and that they’re not alone.”