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Push to hire 10,000 mental health clinicians in California schools amid the pandemic

SB 1229 gives $25,000 grants to aspiring mental health care clinicians.

SAN DIEGO — State leaders say the pandemic has been brutal on students. During a webinar Tuesday, State Senator Mike McGuire (D-North Coast) and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond discussed a plan to recruit 10,000 new mental health care clinicians. 

Senator McGuire is the author of SB 1229, a bill that gives $25,000 grants to aspiring mental health clinicians who agree to serve at least two years in communities with high need.

"Here's what we know about students coming out of the pandemic," said Senator McGuire. "Students have increased anxiety, depression, loneliness and yes, suicidal thoughts."

State Superintendent Thurmond said even before the pandemic hit, there was a staffing shortage of mental health care professionals in California schools, particularly in communities of color. He said there are 600 areas in the state that have been identified as not having a sufficient number of behavioral health care professionals available on staff.

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Dr. Loretta Whitson, Executive Director of the California Association of School Counselors, also took part in the webinar. She said students are dealing with things like learning loss, changes in friendships, and increased anxiety.

"They don't have the coping mechanisms that we, as adults have, to maybe understand the ebb and flow in the world," she said. "But for adolescents, it seems fairly terminal for them, because their life really shifted."

Dr. Whitson also pointed out that even though some students might seem okay right now, it may take several months to really see the effects of the pandemic.

The price tag of Senator McGuire's plan is $250 million. He proposed using money from the state's surplus to pay for it.

If passed, he hopes to begin rolling out the grant money this fall.

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