Gavin Newsom announces $4.7 billion overhaul of California’s mental health system

María G. Ortiz-Briones/mortizbriones@vidaenelvalle.com
·3 min read

Gov. Gavin Newsom visited Fresno’s McLane High School on Wednesday morning to announce a $4.7 billion investment in mental health and substance abuse supports for young Californians ages 0 to 25.

The governor’s office called the investment “the most significant, multi-year overhaul of our mental health system in state history.”

“(Over) the last two years, there has been a stacking of stress, the likes of which none of us could have conceived of,” Newsom said. “And that stacking of stress comes from years and years where we’ve neglected your mental health (and) where we’ve neglected investing in the subject that brings us here today.”

Newsom’s plan includes:

Training and support for 40,000 new mental health professionals, including tuition assistance and loan forgiveness for behavioral health workers

Allocating $5 billion toward a Medi-Cal initiative to “better integrate” behavioral health services for low-income children

Creating a virtual platform to expand access to mental health services

These investments come in response to a nationwide youth mental health crisis that hasn’t spared California.

Over 284,000 young people in the state are dealing with major depression, with two-thirds of kids with depression not receiving treatment, according to data from the governor’s office. Suicide rates also climbed 20% among youth ages 10 to 18 between 2019 and 2020.

Mental health investments have been at the top of Fresno Unified’s agenda for some time with the pandemic putting students in Fresno and across the nation at an all-time low.

McLane senior Aliyah Barajas addressed the crowd Thursday, sharing her own experiences with depression and self-harm in her youth — and how little support she received at school.

“Luckily, I’m at a place right now where I do feel genuine happiness. I’ve gotten the help that I need,” she said. “However, I feel it’s necessary to say the story in front of this audience because I know I’m not the first, the last, or the only 10-year-old girl who has to go through that.”

Newsom said his office chose to make the announcement at Fresno’s Mclane High School because of the school’s successful student social-emotional supports.

“Success leaves clues and we’ve been learning from you here,” Newsom said of Fresno Unified.

Speaking before Newsom on Wednesday, FUSD Superintendent Bob Nelson noted the district’s historic $38 million investment in mental health staffing and resources for the 2022-23 school year in April.

Nelson called student mental health the district’s “top priority.”

The funds are allocated toward hiring 10 additional clinical social workers for the district’s foster and unhoused youth, a new high school counselor, and other full-time employees, increasing mental health staffing from around 50 to over 200 in the same 10-year span, Nelson said at the April news conference.

The investments also represent an increase of roughly $33 million in the district’s mental health spending over the past 10 years.

“You can’t learn if you’re hungry, and you can’t learn if you don’t have the right headspace,” said FUSD board president Elizabeth Jonasson Rosas at Thursday’s news conference.

Jonasson Rosas said she was proud that Fresno Unified has become a model for “supporting the social, emotional and mental health needs of our students — many of which are possible thanks to the state’s increased investment in education.”

The Education Lab is a local journalism initiative that highlights education issues critical to the advancement of the San Joaquin Valley. It is funded by donors. Learn about The Bee’s Education Lab at its website .