(The Center Square) – In response to rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among youth across the nation, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled a multi-billion dollar plan Thursday to bolster the state’s behavioral health workforce and increase prevention efforts.

The $4.7 billion plan aims to increase the state’s behavioral health workforce by 40,000 professionals in the coming years – 10,000 of which would be school counselors, doubling the state’s current amount, Newsom said. Under the plan, the state is poised to offer $20,000 scholarships to school counselors for two years of service.

The plan would also allocate billions to increase mental health screening and mental health support services for children, teens and young adults up to the age of 25.

The plan comes as children and teens nationwide are reporting record-levels of depression and anxiety in the aftermath of the pandemic. In 2021, over one-third of high school students reported experiencing poor mental health during the pandemic, with 44% saying they felt persistently sad or hopeless, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In California specifically, more than 248,000 youth are living with major depression, and suicide rates among kids ages 10-18 increased 20% between 2019 and 2020, according to a fact sheet from the governor’s office.

The pandemic cast a spotlight on the youth mental health crisis in California, which was intensified by social isolation and stay-at-home orders, officials said Thursday.

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

Newsom added that decades of underinvestment in mental health supports has led to a “fragmented system” that continues to fail struggling people. The $4.7 billion in funding for this plan is from the approved budgets over the last three years, Newsom’s office told The Center Square. 

Fresno County Supervisor Brian Pacheco spoke in support of the plan Thursday, telling reporters that he “saw students struggle with mental health issues and anxiety that would challenge most adults way before the pandemic,” during his time as a school board member.

“Having these comprehensive counseling programs in our schools will be a tremendous benefit to our students and their families,” Pacheco said. “With the stay at home orders and lack of socialization experience during the pandemic these programs are even more important for our students.”

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