Youth Who Reported Needing Help for Emotional or Mental Health Problems, by Receipt of Counseling (California & L.A. County Only)

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Learn More About Children's Emotional Health

Measures of Children's Emotional Health on provides the percentage of youth ages 12-17 who report needing help in the past year for emotional or mental health problems, and, of those, the percentage in California and Los Angeles County who report receiving counseling. Also available are estimates of the percentage of children ages 2-17 who need mental health treatment or counseling and who received services in the past 12 months, for regions with at least 70,000 residents. In addition, shows the number and rate of hospitalizations for mental health issues among children and youth ages 5-19, by age group.

On, indicators of “depression-related feelings” (i.e., student reports of whether, in the past 12 months, they felt so sad or hopeless every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities), and emotional/mental health measures reported by school staff include:
*School connectedness is a summary measure based on student reports of being treated fairly, feeling close to people, feeling happy, feeling part of school, and feeling safe at school.
Children's Emotional Health
Bullying and Harassment at School
Community Connectedness
Disconnected Youth
School Connectedness
School Safety
Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
Youth Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury
Why This Topic Is Important
Emotional health is an integral part of overall health, as physical and mental health are intricately linked (1, 2). Sound youth emotional health, which is more than the absence of disorders, includes effective coping skills and the ability to form positive relationships, to adapt in the face of challenges, and to function well at home, in school, and in life (1, 3). Positive emotional or mental health is critical to equipping young people for the challenges of growing up and living as healthy adults (1, 2).

Studies estimate that, each year, up to 1 in 5 U.S. children experience a mental disorder and about $247 billion is spent on children's mental health problems (1, 3). Unfortunately, the majority of youth who need mental health treatment do not receive it, and mental health problems in childhood often have effects into adulthood (1, 3, 4).
Depression is one of the most common emotional health problems among youth, with an estimated 11% of U.S. adolescents diagnosed with depression by age 18 (4). A recent study found that depression accounted for 44% of all pediatric mental health hospital admissions, costing $1.33 billion (5). In 2016, 30% of high school students nationwide reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness—one indicator of depression (6). Youth with depression are more likely to engage in suicidal behavior, drop out of school, use alcohol or drugs, and have unsafe sexual activity, in addition to having difficulties with school and relationships (4, 6).

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

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Murphey, D., et al. (2014). Are the children well? A model and recommendations for promoting the mental wellness of the nation’s young people. Child Trends & Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from:

2.  World Health Organization. (2013). Mental health action plan 2013-2020. Retrieved from:

3.  Perou, R., et al. (2013). Mental health surveillance among children—United States, 2005-2011. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 62(02), 1-35. Retrieved from:

4.  Avenevoli, S., et al. (2015). Major depression in the National Comorbidity Survey—Adolescent Supplement: Prevalence, correlates, and treatment. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(1), 37-44.e2. Retrieved from:

5.  Bardach, N. S., et al. (2014). Common and costly hospitalizations for pediatric mental health disorders. Pediatrics, 133(4), 602-609. Retrieved from:

6.  Child Trends Databank. (2016). Adolescents who felt sad or hopeless. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In California, 25% of 7th graders, 31% of 9th graders, and 33% of 11th graders reported that, in the past year, they had been so sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing some usual activities, according to 2011-13 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: 38% in 2011-13. Greater percentages of females in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades, and in non-traditional classes, report depression-related feelings than their male peers. In addition, students who report feeling less connected to their schools more often report depression-related feelings. Among racial/ethnic groups, the percentage reporting depression-related feelings ranged from 26% to 35% in 2011-13, with the highest percentages among Hispanic/Latino and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students.

In 2013-14, 21% of California youth ages 12-17 reported needing help for emotional or mental health problems, such as feeling sad, anxious, or nervous, up from 17% in 2005. Among those who reported needing help, approximately a third (35%) reported receiving counseling. According to 2011-12 parent reports, an estimated 63% of California children ages 2-17 who needed mental health treatment or counseling received services in the previous 12 months, with county-level estimates ranging from 53% to 67%.

In 2015, there were 13,211 hospitalizations for mental health issues among children ages 5-14 in California (a rate of 2.6 per 1,000) and 25,651 among youth ages 15-19 (9.7 per 1,000). The statewide rate of hospitalizations for mental health issues has fluctuated, but increased overall among children and youth between 2002 and 2015.
Policy Implications
The vast majority of emotional health problems begin in adolescence and young adulthood, with half of all disorders starting by age 14 (1, 2). Screening, early identification, and treatment are critical, as untreated mental illness can disrupt children’s development, academic achievement, and their ability to lead healthy, productive lives (1, 2, 3). School and health care settings are natural places to identify early warning signs, though many primary care providers do not routinely screen youth for mental health issues, and teachers may lack the training or time to identify such issues and refer students for services (1, 3, 4). Even if mental health problems are identified, children often face challenges with stigma and access to services; in fact, most children who need mental health treatment do not receive it (1, 3).

Experts recommend promoting mental wellness in addition to preventing and treating mental illness (1, 5). Mental wellness is influenced by socioeconomic, biological, and environmental factors, and promoting positive emotional health requires coordinated, cross-sector strategies that address influences at both the individual and community levels (1, 5).

Policy options that could promote children's emotional health include:
  • Ensuring that mental health funding is aligned with what is known about the age of onset of disorders, populations at higher risk (e.g., children in poverty, LGBT youth, and children in foster care, among others), and effective services and strategies, which include increased integration and coordination among mental health services and other systems, such as health care, education, child welfare, and juvenile justice (1, 2, 3, 5)
  • Setting school policies that foster a positive, supportive environment and promote student engagement in school, and supporting comprehensive K-12 education for social-emotional learning, including communication skills, problem-solving skills, and stress management (1, 5, 6)
  • Ensuring adequate funding and training for a range of school staff to recognize signs of mental distress and refer students to services; such training also should focus on how to promote a safe and supportive environment for all students, including LGBT youth (1, 4, 7)
  • Promoting efforts in communities to provide youth with positive experiences, relationships, and opportunities, such as quality after-school programs and safe places to play and exercise (1, 8)
  • Promoting mental health training for medical residents and pediatricians, and expanding the workforce of qualified mental health professionals serving youth, including school counselors, psychiatrists, and primary care physicians (1, 3, 9)
  • Supporting efforts to promote parent mental health and positive parenting skills, including increased screening for parental depression (1)
  • Increasing access to high-quality early childhood education, especially for low-income children, and ensuring that early education staff are trained on social-emotional learning (1)
  • Supporting training and media campaigns to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems and increase knowledge of warning signs; trainings could include “mental health first aid” for wide-ranging audiences, focusing on how to recognize early warning signs, provide non-professional support, and help youth access community resources (1, 9)
For more policy ideas and information on this topic, see’s Research & Links section or the report, Are the Children Well? A Model and Recommendations for Promoting the Mental Wellness of the Nation's Young People; also see Policy Implications under the following topics: Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury, Bullying and Harassment at School, School Connectedness, and Community Connectedness.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Murphey, D., et al. (2014). Are the children well? A model and recommendations for promoting the mental wellness of the nation’s young people. Child Trends & Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Retrieved from:

2.  World Health Organization. (n.d.). Child and adolescent mental health. Retrieved from:

3.  Padilla-Frausto, D. I., et al. (2014). Three out of four children with mental health needs in California do not receive treatment despite having health care coverage. UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. Retrieved from:

4.  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:

5.  World Health Organization. (2016). Mental health: Strengthening our response. Retrieved from:

6.  Patel, V. (2013). Reducing the burden of depression in youth: What are the implications of neuroscience and genetics on policies and programs? Journal of Adolescent Health, 52(2, Suppl. 2), S36-S38. Retrieved from:

7.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health: LGBT Youth. Retrieved from:

8.  Afterschool Alliance. (2014). Taking a deeper dive into afterschool: Positive outcomes and promising practices. Retrieved from:

9.  Goodell, S. (2014). Health policy brief: Mental health parity. Health Affairs. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
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