LOS ANGELES – Mirroring a national trend, 45% of California youth between the ages of 12 and 17 report having recently struggled with mental health issues, with nearly a third of them experiencing serious psychological distress that could interfere with their academic and social functioning, the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research reported Wednesday.
The research also highlights the elevated incidence of mental health distress among certain segments of the adolescent population — including poor, multiracial, gender-nonconforming and foreign-born young people — and recommends policies to address these inequities and boost access to mental health services.
“With almost half of California’s adolescents experiencing moderate to serious psychological distress, there is an urgent need to protect their psychological and emotional well-being by addressing the structural and social factors related to inequities in mental health,” said D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, the study’s co-lead author and a research scientist at UCLA CHPR.
Using data from the center’s 2019 California Health Interview Survey, the study authors looked at social determinants of health — non-medical factors such as family income, insurance, race and ethnicity, and citizenship status — to determine which adolescents were most affected by mental health distress.
They also examined the impact of adolescents’ physical health and behavior in areas such as eating habits, physical activity, social media use and substance use, including drinking and smoking.