Published Date: January 27, 2021

​​Summary: National estimates show that 1 of every 2 adolescents ages 12 to 17 is affected by a mental health disorder. This brief uses data from the 2019 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) to identify adolescents who are most vulnerable to moderate and serious psychological distress, both measures of mental health status. ​

Findings: Results indicate that in 2019, approximately 1 in 3 adolescents in California, or 29.3 %, reported symptoms that meet the criteria for serious psychological distress (SPD), while 1 in 7 adolescents, or 15.7%, reported symptoms of moderate psychological distress (MPD). Guided by the World Health Organization’s conceptual framework on the structural determinants of health inequities, analysis of CHIS data shows high rates of SPD among adolescents who were female, gender-nonconforming, and multiracial; among adolescents who had poor health, poor nutrition, and sedentary behavior; and among adolescents who engaged in binge drinking and marijuana, hashish, and e-cigarette/cigarette use. 

To ensure the best mental health outcomes for adolescents, families, communities, and society, the structural, political, and systemic issues that create socioeconomic inequities must be addressed, and there must be increased access to and improvement of mental health services. Policy recommendations for federal, state, and local policymakers and stakeholders include reducing socioeconomic inequities, establishing universal service access in schools, increasing mental health literacy among caregivers, and adopting integrated care models.​


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