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A Snapshot of Mental Health and Access to Care Among Nonelderly Adults in California (Kaiser Family Foundation)

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Policy Brief

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Summary: The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with worsening mental health across the country, and California is no exception. Authors analyzed data from the 2016–2020 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS), which asks noninstitutionalized adults detailed questions on mental health and substance use, to further examine the impact of the pandemic on mental health in the state.

Findings: Some key findings include:                        

  • The pandemic comes on the heels of an already worsening mental health and substance use crisis in California. A growing share of nonelderly adults have reported past year serious psychological distress over time in California, up from 9% in 2016 to 15% in 2020. Substance use issues have also worsened – drug overdose deaths increased over 40% from 2019 to 2020 in California.
  • During the pandemic, serious psychological distress was more pronounced among some communities, including women and low-income adults in California. Women in California (16%) were more likely than men (13%) to experience serious psychological distress in 2020. In general, women have more often reported poor mental health compared to their male counterparts both before and during the pandemic.
  • Across insurance types, large shares of nonelderly adults reported poor mental health outcomes in 2020. Medi-Cal enrollees were significantly more likely than private insurance enrollees to experience past year serious psychological distress in 2020 (18% vs. 11%, respectively), perhaps reflecting Medi-Cal coverage of many people with disabling health conditions including serious mental illness and/or many low-income individuals who may be more likely to report poor mental health. Many nonelderly adults also reported thoughts of suicide in 2020: 14% among Medi-Cal enrollees and 13% among private insurance enrollees (data was not statistically different).
  • In response to mental health and substance use needs in California during the pandemic, several policy actions were taken to increase and standardize access to care. Senate Bill 855 addresses gaps in existing mental health parity laws by requiring insurers to expand coverage to a broader range of mental health and substance use disorders (apart from Medi-Cal). Assembly Bill 2265 will allow for funds from the Mental Health Services Act, typically reserved for mental health services only, to be used for substance use services as well among people with co-occurring mental health and substance use issues. Additionally, through Senate Bill 803, Medi-Cal mental health and substance use services will expand to include peer support specialists.

Looking ahead, further research on access to care and utilization of mental health services will be informative as state policymakers, administrators, and health care providers continue to discuss how to address mental health and substance use needs among Californians.


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Policy Brief: A Snapshot of Mental Healt and Access to Care Among Nonelderly Adults in California

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Press Release

Related Link 1

California Health Interview Survey (CHIS)

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Kaiser Family Foundation

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Version: 4.0
Created at 3/21/2022 10:41 AM by i:0#.f|uclachissqlmembershipprovider|celeste
Last modified at 3/23/2022 8:29 AM by i:0#.f|uclachissqlmembershipprovider|celeste