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Suicide-prevention training bill for all mental health professionals passes Assembly

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POSTED May 19, 2014 8:05 p.m.

SACRAMENTO (AP) — A bill requiring mental health professionals to undergo suicide-prevention training passed the state Assembly on Monday, as California public health data shows suicide is on the rise.

Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, said his AB2198 follows recommendations from a 2012 report by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. The bill heads to the Senate after passing the Assembly on a 44-11 vote, just above the threshold needed for approval in the 80-member chamber.

“This will save lives and help us reverse the growing number of suicides in California,” Levine told fellow lawmakers.

He said a third of Californians who commit suicide saw a mental health professional during the last year of their life.

Data kept by the California Department of Public Health show deaths by suicide hitting a peak of almost 4,000 in 2011. Much of the recent rise is concentrated among Californians ages 45 to 64, from 919 in 2000 to 1,542 in 2012.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported 38,364 suicide deaths involving Americans ages 10 and up in 2010, the last year data were available. That is more than died in vehicle crashes that year, according to CDC data.

If it becomes law, Levine’s bill would take effect in 2016. It would set one-time training requirements for licensed psychologists, social workers, family therapists and counselors along with requiring 15 hours of training for new professionals and six hours of continuing education for those already licensed.

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers questioned whether a mandate is the best approach, noting opposition from professional groups. Democratic Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, a social worker, withheld her vote on the bill and said it is not clear whether a lack of training contributes to deaths.

“I haven’t been persuaded we don’t already have the emphasis as needed for this very important issue,” she said.

A 2009 study published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior found half of psychologists, a quarter of social workers and 6 percent of counselors had suicide risk assessment training.

The California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers opposed the bill, saying its members deal with a broad swath of issues and should be trusted to pursue classes relevant to their work.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, said he was conflicted over the bill after losing a brother to suicide. He encouraged an approach that would improve training for mental health professionals without imposing new requirements.

A separate bill related to mental health to remove “offensive and outdated” terminology from California legal codes passed unanimously on Monday. AB1847 by Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, would replace terms such as “insane” and “mentally deficient.”

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