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Missed Opportunities: Up to 9 in 10 Women Eligible for Public Health Services in California Have Unmet Mental Health Need

October 20, 2021

Policy Brief

Authors: Safa Salem, D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, PhD, MPH, Hin Wing Tse, Firooz Kabir, Nicolás E. Barceló, Blanche Wright

Summary: A public health approach that focuses on prevention and early intervention can inform policies, programs, and services that address socioeconomic inequities and issues of access and unmet need for mental health care services. Prior analyses on psychological distress in California have shown that women are more likely than men to experience serious psychological distress (SPD). This policy brief presents pooled 2018 and 2019 California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) data on the unmet need among women who are eligible for public health services by level of psychological distress and by social status indicators (race, ethnicity, citizenship status, language, age, and family type) and economic status indicators (education and employment).

Findings: Nearly 9 in 10 women with mild psychological distress who are eligible for public health services had unmet need, as did 7 in 10 similar women with moderate psychological distress, and 5 in 10 women with serious psychological distress. This study underscores the need to increase use of and improve access to mental health services, especially among women of color and women with mild and moderate psychological distress whose symptoms could become progressively more severe and disabling. Policy recommendations that can improve the mental well-being of women in California include increasing equity in mental health service use, promoting mental health literacy and outreach, increasing mental health screening and awareness, and reducing socioeconomic inequities among women. ​

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