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By Tim Hunt

Custom license plates to fund mental health services for students

Uploaded: Jun 22, 2021

Teen-aged girls suffered mightily during the government-imposed shutdowns to limit the spread of COVID-19.
A study released earlier this month showed that emergency room treatments for suicide for teen girls increased by 25% last fall and by a staggering 50% during winter 2021. Suicide, sadly, is a leading cause of death for teens and has been increasing, but nothing like over the last year.
Experts commenting on the study noted that it’s the disruption of their routine coupled with the isolation from friends during the lockdown that triggered the attempts.
Graham Wiseman, who lost his teen-aged son to suicide eight years ago, believes he has a solution. He’s poured himself into the issue and set out to find ways to help teen-agers with their mental health.
In affluent school districts, he found that officials had established wellness centers on campus. His home district, Acalanes in central Contra Costa County, committed to centers on each of its five campuses at a cost of$200,000 per center per year. One COVID hit, they moved outside and were busier than when students were actually on campus.
Realizing as Wiseman put it, mental health issues affect students across the income spectrum, but it’s only wealthy districts that have been investing into the wellness centers to help students. The state has conducted its healthy student survey for juniors for 20 years so they have good data. It’s not a pretty read.
The idea of suicide was growing 2-3% a year in the survey results—since the first center at Las Lomas High was established, it has fallen each year. They know providing the help makes a big difference. Statewide, about 15.5% of juniors have seriously considered suicide. That number climbs to 40% at one local continuation school.
Wiseman, who speaks for Teen Esteem and thus engages directly with students, said the number for Pleasanton is 19%. At one Pleasanton middle school presentation, five students wanted help immediately. The survey also asks if students regularly feel sad or hopeless—39% of 11th grade girls reported those feelings.
Wiseman has founded an organization committed to putting wellness centers on high school campuses across the state, regardless of the wealth of the community. He’s met with state schools chief Tony Thurmond who he described as sold on the idea and willing to push it personally.
That takes a dedicated funding source that he believes they’ve found in the state license plate fund (the custom plates that feature Yosemite or Lake Tahoe).
He’s now mounting a campaign to get 7,500 people to register on their website that they are interested in the mental health license plate. The Legislature is considering a two-year bill that will be heard after the summer recess. Until the signatures are gathered, legislators are reluctant to spend their time on the bill because too many others have failed to get the required number.
For Wiseman, it’s simple. He wants the license plate not only to provide the ongoing state funding, but for it to spark conversations when motorists see the plate at stop lights.
You can show your interest and support the effort at