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Teen Mental Health Treatment in California: High School Programs for Mental Health Support

It’s been two years since officials issued the first shelter-in-place orders in California. Schools went virtual, businesses adapted to the new circumstances, and everyone wondered how long the pandemic would last and what the consequences would be. Adolescent development experts and mental health professionals warned the public health safety and COVID-19 mitigation measures would have an adverse impact on teen mental health, which would mean we’d need an increase in mental health support for teens in California.

Two years later, we have the data.

The experts were right.

We’ll offer national statistics in a moment, but first we want to focus on teen mental health in California. We’ll present the latest available general statistics on teen mental health in California, share the latest hospitalization rates for teen mental health issues, and then include the latest statistics on teen depression in California.

Teen Mental Health: California in 2020

Source: California Department of Healthcare Access, CalMatters, UCLA Center for Health Policy Research

  • General Figures:
    • 45% of teens ages 12-17 report mental health issues
    • 29.3% of teens ages 12-17 report serious psychological distress
    • 15.7% report moderate psychological distress
  • Hospitalizations for Teen Mental Health Issues:
    • 37,787 teens ages 15-19 were hospitalized for teen mental health issues
    • 12,719 youth ages 5-14 were hospitalized for teen mental health issues
  • Depression:
    • Grade 7:
      • Males: 22.8%
      • Females: 37.0%
    • Grade 9:
      • Males: 23.0%
      • Females: 41.4%
    • Grade 11:
      • Males: 27.4%
      • Females: 45.1%

Those facts and figures demonstrate a real need for additional mental health support for teen mental health issues in California. That’s why a program sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) called NCHS: NAMI on Campus High School is of critical importance in 2022: teens with a mental health, behavioral, or alcohol/substance use disorder need help more than ever.

What is NAMI on Campus?

NAMI on Campus-High School (NCHS) programs were formed soon after NAMI on Campus- College programs appeared in 2013. NAMI on Campus-College responded to an increase in the need for mental health support on college campuses around the country. When mental health professionals observed similar increases ion mental health issues among teens, advocates and organizers initiated NAMI on Campus-High School.

The primary purpose of NAMI On Campus is to:

  • Raise awareness of about mental health, mental illness, and mental health treatment among students, teachers, and school administrators.
  • Support students and peers living with mental illness/mental health disorders
  • Provide helpful mental health resources for the school and community
  • Teach people to recognize the signs of mental health issues in peers
  • Support students with mental health issues to seek professional support and/or treatment
  • End the stigma around mental health issues, mental illness, and treatment for mental health disorders
  • Create safe, open, empathetic, and compassionate learning communities that are sensitive to the needs of people with mental health issues
  • Let peers know they are not alone, and that their friends, peers, and teachers are there for them when they need help

Those are important goals, and can benefit any school in the country. That’s not an exaggeration. Teens across the country are in need of support right now. We shared data that demonstrates a real need for programs like NAMI on Campus in California. Now we’ll share data on mental health that demonstrates the real need for programs like NAMI on Campus nationwide.

Teen Mental Health Statistics: National Data

Sources: 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

  • General Facts:
    • 17% of U.S. youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder each year
    • 20% of teens ages 13-18 have a mental health condition
  • Anxiety Disorders (AD) Ages 12-17:
    • 31.9%
      • 38% for females
      • 26.1% for males
    • Anxiety Disorders (AD) with Severe Impairment Ages 12-17:
      • 8.3%
        • No significant gender differences
  • Major Depressive Episode (MDE) Ages 12-17:
    • 2018: 14.4%
      • 41.5% received treatment
    • 2019: 15.7%
      • 41.4% received treatment
    • 2020: 17.0%
      • 43.4% received treatment
    • MDE with Severe Impairment:
      • 2018: 10.0%
        • 46.9% received treatment
      • 2019: 11.1%
        • 49.7% received treatment
      • 2020: 12.0%
        • 46.9% received treatment
      • 10% of youth have a behavior or conduct disorder

Let’s go deeper into that data and extract information that reveals a significant problem in mental health in the U.S. It’s called “The Treatment Gap.” The treatment gap is what is sounds like: the difference between the number of people who need treatment for mental health issues and the number of people who get treatment for mental health issues. The data above shows that between 2018 and 2020:

Around 60 percent of adolescents with a major depressive episode did not receive professional support.
Around 60 percent of adolescents with a major depressive episode with serious impairment did not receive professional support.

Since it can be difficult to connect percentages to real humans and real human needs, we’ll break that information down into actual numbers. Assuming there are about 25 million adolescents in the US, the statistics above mean that between 2018 and 2020, roughly 2.3 million teens who had an MDE did not get the support they needed, and about 1.5 million teens with MDE with serious impairment did not get the support they needed.

That lead to a serious question: what happens when teens with mental health disorders go untreated?

The answer reveals how serious mental health disorders can be. In some cases, untreated mental health disorders can result in escalating, worsening symptoms. These can lead to increased impairment, the inability to meet or participate in the typical responsibilities of daily life, and, in the most severe cases, overpowering emotions that lead to a suicide attempt.

Teen Mental Health: Suicide

Untreated mental health disorders create problems for the person with the disorder and for their families and friends. The symptoms of mental health disorders can range from mild to severe. In severe cases, symptoms include painful emotions, difficult-to-manage-behavior, and disrupted, disruptive relationship patterns with family and friends. Teen mental health treatment is essential in helping teens manage these symptoms and participate in daily life – but for mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder, preventing suicide is one of the most important outcomes of teen mental health treatment.

Here are the latest facts on teen suicide in the U.S.

Teen Suicide: The Need for Evidence-Based Teen Mental Health Treatment

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10-34
  • Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people ages 15-24
    • Boys are more likely to die from suicide than girls
    • Girls are kore likely to attempt suicide than boys
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth
  • 90% of people who die by suicide have a mental health disorder
  • 12% of teens ages 12-17 had serious thoughts of suicide in 2020
    • 1% did not want to answer
  • 5.3% of teens ages 12-17 made plans to commit suicide in 2020
    • 4.0% did not want to answer
  • 2.5% of teens ages 12-17 attempted suicide in 2020
    • 3.8% did not want to answer

That’s sobering. More teens die by suicide every year in the U.S. than in car accidents – and this has been true since 2016. That foregrounds the need for teen mental health treatment, and tells us we need to prioritize disorders associated with suicide, such as teen depression, bipolar disorder, or borderline personality disorder.

Before we get into the specifics of how NAMI on Campus-High School will help teens, we’ll offer one more set of facts on mental health, specific to teens.

Mental Health Disorders and Teens: Additional Facts to Know

  • 50% of mental health disorders appear by age 14
  • 75% appear before age 24
  • The average time between onset of symptoms – i.e. the first time they appear – and initial treatment is 8-10 years
  • 37% of students diagnosed with a mental health disorder drop out of high school
    • This is the highest dropout for any disability
  • 70% of youth in local and state juvenile courts systems have a mental health disorder
    • Note that does not say 70% of youth with mental health disorder will encounter state or local juvenile courts

It should be crystal clear at this point that there’s a distinct need for enhanced support for teen mental health issues around the country. Rates of depression and anxiety are up nationwide. Hospital visits for psychiatric emergencies have increased for teens California, as have rates of depression in middle and high school students in California.

How NAMI On Campus Can Help Teens With Mental Health Problems

After awareness of mental health issues and education about mental health disorders and teen mental health treatment, the most important goal of programs at or on high school campuses is reducing the stigma around mental health issues.

Here’s how NAMI defines stigma:

“Stigma is a negative and degrading attitude towards others. It’s usually based on lack of information and understanding. Stigma is what happens when a person is treated differently because they have a mental illness or have a friend or a family member with a mental illness.”

Stigma appears in many ways. Here are several examples:

  • Using words such as crazy or psycho to describe someone with mental health problems
  • Advising a person with a clinical mental health disorder to “Just get over it.”
  • Telling someone with depression to “Try harder.”
  • Avoiding/shunning/excluding friends with mental health issues
  • Changing your attitude and/or behavior toward a friend when you find out they’re experiencing mental health challenges
  • Thinking people with mental health issues are, by default, dangerous or violent

With regards to that last bullet, point, evidence indicates that people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violent crimes or acts, rather than perpetrators. But the two things we want teens – or anyone, for that matter – to focus on in this list are using words like psycho or crazy and excluding people with mental health issues from social events or interactions. Those things feel intentionally cruel and unnecessarily mean to a teen with a mental health problem – and in many cases, these acts can exacerbate symptoms that are already painful and difficult to manage.

The presence of a NAMI on Campus club in a high school can help correct these problems. And in California right now, all available evidence indicates that there are more teens than ever in need of mental health treatment and support. A teen with a mental health disorder who goes to a school with a NAMI on Campus Club has the chance to feel:

  • Seen
  • Heard
  • Understood
  • Accepted
  • Included

The benefits do not only redound to teens with mental health issues, but also to teens who have no mental health issues at all.

How NAMI on Campus Helps Teens Without Mental Health Problems

During high school, many teens have an intense drive to help others. Some become environmental activists, some immerse themselves in politics, and others embrace women’s rights, gender equality, or work for fair and equal treatment of members of the LGBTQI+ community. Some dedicate themselves to mental health awareness. This may be because they have a family member with  a mental health issue, a friend with a clinical diagnosis, or they simply want to help.

Here’s how a NAMI on Campus program helps all students at a high school. By participating in  a NAMI on Campus program, teens can:

  • Develop leadership skills
  • Learn how to plan and organize meetings
  • Practice communication skills
  • Learn the value of working for others
  • Be a positive role model
  • Establish a relationship with NAMI, the largest grassroots mental health nonprofit organization in the country
  • Learn to identify, develop, and leverage resources to help the common good

We include this information on how a NAMI on Campus program can help teens that don’t have mental health issues for one reason: individual mental health is community mental health. When our teens learn about mental health disorders and mental health treatment, it can change their lives. They learn that anyone, anywhere, anytime can develop a mental health disorder for which they need outside help and support. When they realize that everyone is vulnerable, and some more than others, they can adjust their behavior and ensure the things they do in their daily lives reduce stigma, rather than perpetuate it, which lead to better outcomes for everyone.

Teen Mental Health Treatment: How it Works

If you’re the parent of a teen in California, we urge you to revisit the statistics we opened this article with:

  • 45% of teens in California report mental health issues
  • 29.3% of teens in California report serious psychological distress

Now think about your teen’s classmates. For sake of argument, let’s say there are 300 kids in their grade. That means there’s a statistical likelihood that around 135 of them have a mental health issue, and that around 90 are likely to be in serious psychological distress.

Therefore, if you notice any signs of symptoms of depression, anxiety, or any other mental health disorder in your teen, we encourage you to seek a professional evaluation. If an evaluation indicates the presence of a mental health disorder, you should receive a referral for teen mental health treatment at one of the following levels of care:

  • Outpatient
  • Intensive outpatient (IOP)
  • Partial hospitalization (PHP)
  • Residential Treatment (RTC)

If your teen has a mental health disorder, their level of care will depend on a variety of factors specific to their disorder and your family needs. In all cases, this adage applies: the sooner a teen who needs treatment gets the treatment they need, the better the outcome.

Finding Help: Resources

If you’re seeking treatment for your teen, please navigate to our page How to Find the Best Treatment Programs for Teens and download our helpful handbook, A Parent’s Guide to Mental Health Treatment for Teens.

In addition, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is an excellent resource for locating licensed and qualified psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors in your area. Both the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also provide and high-quality online resources, ready and waiting for you right now.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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