By Kellen Hoard, Chair, Washington state Legislative Youth Advisory Council
The Washington state Legislative Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) is codified in law as the official youth advisory body to the state legislature, and its activities are wide-ranging. Throughout the year, 14-to-18-year-old student members of the council actively lobby legislators, testify in committee, advise various government agencies, host events around the state, collaborate with nearly 200 community organizations, and much more. LYAC also spends much time conversing with young people in every corner of Washington about their priorities in order to be a more effective advocate to the legislature, and this year the council has heard consistently that one of the top concerns for students is mental health.
Prior to the pandemic, student mental health was already declining in Washington, and the ramifications of COVID-19 only exacerbated the situation. Nearly every young person is struggling to some degree, or has a family member or friend who is. This crisis is further compounded by a lack of student knowledge about existing resources available to help them. Earlier this year, LYAC decided to utilize its platform in order to address this fundamental part of the mental health problem and begin work towards expanding access and awareness of support mechanisms.
Why We Need House Bill 1373
In January, LYAC wrote, introduced, and began lobbying for House Bill 1373. This legislation requires that every public school website publishes on its home page contact information for the following categories of behavioral health organizations: suicide prevention, crisis intervention, depression and/or anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse. The council was intentional in its choice to include categories rather than specific organizations in order to give schools maximum flexibility in finding resources that meet the needs of their students while still ensuring a basic foundation of support. LYAC was also particularly focused on utilizing school websites in this bill, as they are a key route through which to disseminate information to students. Many youths use their school websites to check for grades, schedules, and other miscellaneous information, and the page is easily accessible from any device with an internet connection. A successful amendment also requires that schools periodically post about the resources on their social media, which should help further expand awareness. By making the website addresses and phone numbers for key behavioral health resources easily available, schools will be able to help students find the help they desperately need when they need it most.
The bill, under the excellent stewardship of prime sponsor Rep. Lisa Callan, passed the House on February 25 with a 93-5 vote and is now working its way through the Senate. If signed into law, it will be an important step in the fight towards declining youth mental health. It is a direct reflection of the needs of youth as written by youth, and if passed will ensure the safety of countless young people for years to come.
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