Anxiety and depression are skyrocketing among young people in California

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California ranks in bottom third of states for child well-being as youth depression and anxiety rise 70%

OAKLAND — California ranks 33rd for child well-being, according to the 2022 KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report of recent household data compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation analyzing the situation of children and families.

The annual report this year focuses on youth mental health, consistent with a recent assessment by the US Surgeon General that the country faces a youth mental health crisis. Californian children have experienced
the second highest increase in depression and anxiety among all states, with 7.0% of children ages 3-17
diagnosed with depression or anxiety in 2016, rising to 11.9% in 2020. In comparison, young people with
depression or anxiety increased by 26% nationally between 2016 and 2020.

Racial and ethnic disparities in access to care and exposure to overt and systemic racism contribute
to additional mental health and welfare burdens for children of color. The suicide rate among young black people in California has risen dramatically in recent years; in 2020, the suicide rate for black children was 12.3 per 100,000 youth, nearly double the rate for other Californian children (6.6 per 100,000).

Additionally, many LGBTQ+2 youth experience mental health issues such as bullying and family rejection, while 41% of straight California high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more consecutive weeks. , 75% of LGBTQ+ students reported such feelings.
“Not only are we seeing a significant increase in the need for mental health services, but children in California
also face too many barriers to accessing these essential services. In fact, 65% of young Californians with
major depression receive no mental health treatment due to lack of access to services. The state
must treat this problem as an emergency and increase children’s access to mental health services
now,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, a California member of the KIDS COUNT network.

Each year, the Data Book presents national and state data from 16 indicators in four areas –
economic well-being, education, health, and family and community factors – and ranks states
depending on how the kids are doing overall. The data in this year’s report is a mix of pre-pandemic and
the most recent figures and are the last available.

California’s overall ranking of 33rd (broken down by field below) is far too low considering California
wealth and leadership in other areas, such as environmentalism, technological innovation and guarantee
equal rights for all:

  • 45th for economic well-being: California continues to be the worst state in the country since
    percentage of children living in households that spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
  • 37th in education: The state slowly improved student performance in classrooms
    TK-12. However, California needs to do much more to support academic engagement and progress,
    especially for children from marginalized groups.
  • 7th in health: California ranks fourth in the percentage of children without health insurance and sixth in the percentage of low birth weight babies. Additionally, California’s long-term investments in accurate sex education and access to birth control have helped reduce the teenage birth rate.

“California’s national ranking – 33rd for child well-being – is unacceptable. Given that we rank in the top ten states in overall taxation and with our national leadership in so many other areas, California should lead the nation in child welfare. As we applaud the significant investments and reforms in this year’s state budget, our policymakers must take even stronger action and commit to making California the national leader when it comes to children,” said said Lempert.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation calls on lawmakers to heed the Surgeon General’s warning and act
by developing programs and policies to reduce the mental health burden of children and their families. They
urge policy makers to:

  • Prioritize the basic needs of children. Young people growing up in poverty are two to three times more
    more likely to develop mental health problems than their peers. Children need a solid foundation of
    nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods — and their families need financial resources
    stability — to support positive mental health and well-being.
  • Ensure that every child has access to the mental health care they need, when and where they
    need that. Schools should increase the presence of social workers, psychologists and other
    mental health professionals on staff and strive to meet the 250 to 1 student ratio
    counselors recommended by the American School Counselor Association, and they can work
    with local healthcare providers and local and state governments to provide
    available resources and coordinate treatment.
  • Strengthen mental health care that takes into account the experiences of young people and
    identities. Care must be trauma-informed — designed to support the child’s healing and
    emotional security — and culturally relevant to the child’s life. He must be informed at the latest
    evidence and research and should be oriented towards early intervention, which may be particularly
    important in the absence of a formal diagnosis of mental illness.

Image Sources

  • Depressed youth: Shutterstock
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