Emotional/Mental Health

Spotlight on Key Indicators: Emotional/Mental Health

Learn More About Emotional/Mental Health

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs
Bullying and Harassment at School
Community Connectedness
Disconnected Youth
Emotional/Mental Health
School Safety
School Connectedness
Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury
Why This Topic Is Important

Emotional health includes self-confidence, the ability to form and maintain caring relationships, coping skills, optimism, and the ability to make positive choices. Sound emotional health, which is more than the absence of mental disorders, is critical to equipping young people for the challenges of growing up and living as healthy adults (1).

Depression is one of the most common emotional health problems among teens, estimated to affect 15-20% of youth under 18 in the U.S. (2). In 2011, almost 30% of high school students nationwide reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness – one indicator of depression (3). Youth diagnosed with depression often experience significant impairment in peer, family, school, and physical functioning (2, 4). Depressed teens also have higher rates of other emotional and behavioral health problems, such as anxiety, drug use, aggressiveness, and suicidal behavior; and they are more likely to experience depression and other psychological problems as adults (2, 4). In addition, rates of serious chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are higher among individuals with depressive symptoms (5). Depression can be especially difficult to detect in children, as it can manifest differently in young people than in adults (4).

For more information on emotional health, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  American Psychological Association. (2012). Emotional health. Retrieved from:

2.  Jaycox, L. H., et al. (2009). Impact of teen depression on academic, social, and physical functioning. Pediatrics, 124(4), e569-e605. Retrieved from:

3.  Child Trends Data Bank. (2012). Adolescents who felt sad or hopeless. Retrieved from:

4.  Brent, D. A., & Birmaher, B. (2002). Adolescent depression. New England Journal of Medicine, 347, 667-671.

5.  Katon, W. J. (2003). Clinical and health services relationships between major depression, depressive symptoms, and general medical illness. Biological Psychiatry, 54(3), 216-226.
How Children Are Faring
In 2011-12, 19% of of youth in California ages 12-17 reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems, such as feeling sad, anxious, or nervous. This figure is higher than previous years. Among those who reported needing help, only a third (32%) reported receiving counseling.

In California, about 28% of 7th graders, 31% of 9th graders, and 32% of 11th graders reported that, in the past 12 months, they had been so sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing some usual activities, according to 2008-10 data. Non-traditional students (i.e., those enrolled in Community Day Schools or Continuation Education) had the highest percentages reporting depression-related feelings in the past year: 37% in 2008-10.

As in previous years, greater percentages of females in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades reported depression-related feelings than their male peers in 2008-10. In addition, students who reported feeling less connected to their schools more often reported depression-related feelings. Among racial/ethnic groups, the percentage reporting depression-related feelings ranged from 27% to 34% in 2008-10, with the highest percentages among multiethnic and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students.

In 2012, there were 12,538 hospitalizations for mental health issues among children ages 5-14 in California (a rate of 2.5 per 1,000), and 25,125 among youth ages 15-19 (9.0 per 1,000). The statewide rate of hospitalizations for mental health issues has fluctuated, but has increased overall among both children and youth between 2002 and 2012.
Policy Implications

Many primary care providers do not routinely screen youth for emotional and mental health issues, and teachers often lack the training or the time to identify such issues and refer students for intervention (1).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could promote emotional and mental health include:

  • Ensuring adequate funding and training for a range of school professionals to recognize the signs of depression, self-injury, and suicidal ideation, and to connect students with appropriate services, including specific training for meeting the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth (2, 3, 4)
  • Structuring public health systems and insurance reimbursement policies to require depression screening and encourage regular administration of psychosocial exams to youth (1)
  • Promoting efforts in communities to provide youth with positive experiences, relationships, and opportunities, such as quality after-school programs, which can help youth develop skills to make healthy choices and become caring, responsible adults (5)
  • Supporting efforts in schools to provide a positive, supportive environment and to offer comprehensive K-12 education for social-emotional development, including interpersonal communication, goal setting, anger management, and advocacy skills, as supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Education Code (5, 6)
  • Setting school policies that foster student connectedness and a positive relationship with school (7, 8).

For more policy ideas and information on this topic, see’s Research & Links section, or visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also see the Policy Implications sections in the following topics: School Safety, Bullying/Harassment at School, School Connectedness, Pupil Support Service Personnel, Alcohol, Tobacco & Other Drugs, Child Abuse, and Foster Care.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Dowdy, E., et al. (2010). School-based screening: A population-based approach to inform and monitor children’s mental health needs. School Mental Health, 2(4), 166-176. Retrieved from:

2.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender health: Youth. Retrieved from:

3.  Suicide Prevention Resource Center. (2012). The role of high school teachers in preventing suicide. Retrieved from:

4.  Report of the U.S. Surgeon General and of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. (2012). National strategy for suicide prevention 2012: Goals and objectives for action. Retrieved from:

5.  California Education Code Section 51890-51891. Retrieved from:

6.  American Academy of Pediatrics. (n.d.). Health, mental health and safety guidelines for schools. Retrieved from:

7.  Monahan, K., et al. (2010). Predictors and consequences of school connectedness: The case for prevention. The Prevention Researcher, 17(3), 3-6. Retrieved from:

8.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). School connectedness: Strategies for increasing protective factors among youth. Retrieved from:

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