Young Californians have high rates of anxiety, depression, poll says

Young adults in California face an alarming rate of mental health problems, with more than three-quarters reporting anxiety, more than half reporting depression, 31% suicidal thoughts and 16% self-harm in the last year, according to results of a survey commissioned by the California endowment

The numbers reflect a years-long trend of deteriorating mental health in young people, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say.

The survey of nearly 800 Californians ages 18 to 24 also found young people face significant barriers to getting help — nearly half of those who asked to speak to a mental health professional said they weren’t able to location, and many said cost or lack of access had held them back.

The challenges reported by the survey are “extremely worrying,” said Dr. Benjamin Maxwell, Interim Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego, who was not involved in the survey.

“As a society, we have underfunded mental health support for people for decades, and some of that comes to light in this survey.”

The poll shows that a generation is burdened by a multitude of problems, with 86% saying the cost of housing is an extremely or very serious problem, and more than three-quarters saying the same about the cost of college and the lack of well-paying jobs , homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, and the cost and availability of health care.

Mental health ranks second only to the cost of housing as a prevalent problem among young adults, with 82% describing it as an extremely or very serious problem.

When they were asked to choose a word that describes how they felt about the future of their generation, the two dominant feelings were insecurity and worry.

“If we compare that to what we get when we talk [older] As adults, we don’t see the same breadth and intensity of concern about this wide range of issues,” said pollster David Metz of research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, which conducted the survey. “I think that says something about the pressures young people are feeling.”

The survey was commissioned by the California Endowment, a statewide health foundation, to better understand the mental health challenges young people face. The foundation funds a variety of initiatives in California that promote mental health and other health-related issues.

Times reporters and editors worked with the foundation on the survey questions and reviewed the methodology in advance of the survey.

The survey was conducted from September 9th to 18th using an online panel. Because such panels are not probability-based samples, pollsters cannot use traditional margin of error calculations to describe the uncertainty surrounding a poll’s results. Instead, pollsters can estimate poll accuracy using another statistical calculation known as the credibility interval. In this survey, that interval is approximately 5 percentage points in either direction.

This summer, the foundation helped host a two-day summit aimed at working with young people to find ways to respond to what US Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy is calling an emerging mental health crisis among adolescents Has.

Young people who took part in the survey and spoke to The Times described mental health problems that were made significantly worse by isolation and loneliness during lockdowns and school closures.

Alejandra Barba, 20, grew up in a home with a family who loves her but is strictly religious and does not accept her homosexuality. She was 11 when she started harming herself after experiencing abuse.

When the pandemic struck, she was a high school senior. She was suddenly forced to stay at home, isolated from friends and the academics in which she excelled and who kept her motivated.

“My mental health just deteriorated rapidly,” she said. She attempted suicide twice and spent time in treatment facilities. At one facility, she was one of the few young women placed with several middle-aged and elderly men. The food was inedible and there was only one bathroom with no lock on the door, she said.

Eventually, she managed to get into intensive outpatient therapy for a year, which significantly improved her mental health.

But getting that help took far too long, she said.

“There is a great lack of accessibility to therapists or resources that can help,” she said. “I feel like there is such a misallocation of money. That’s a huge problem.”

Overall, the survey found that women and people who identified as LGBTQ were significantly less likely to give positive reviews of their mental health. Just over half of the men reported their mental health as excellent or good, compared with a third of the women.

Five percent of respondents identified themselves as gay or lesbian and 17 percent as bisexual. Among young adults who identify as LGBTQ, one in five said their mental health was excellent or good.

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Another survey respondent, who is 18 and attends community college in San Diego, said the loneliness of the pandemic left her in extreme anxiety.

Her junior year of high school was completely distant. She had been a strong student but found it difficult to focus or feel motivated online. Some days she would spend hours scrolling through TikTok videos.

Thirty percent of survey participants said they felt social media had a negative impact on their mental health, and those who spent more time online rated their mental health less positively.

“Your junior year is where you should be looking for colleges and figuring out the important stuff,” she said. “It didn’t seem important to me at the time.”

She asked the Times not to use her name to protect her privacy.

When she returned to campus for her senior year, “it was stressful and overwhelming,” she said. Her fear left her with stomach pains. She vomited frequently and lost weight.

Now, as a freshman in college, she said, “My anxiety has gotten a lot better since high school. But I’m still struggling with the symptoms.”

Schools need to offer more support to young people, she said.

“I know they have counselors,” she said, but “they need real therapists in schools, like certified child therapists, to help the students.”

Terra Bransfield, 22, a student at Sonoma State University, said she struggles with body image issues and eating disorders. But she feels fortunate to have a supportive family and close circle of friends with whom she is happy to talk about mental health.

Her friends are open about their struggles with depression, anxiety, and body image, and share the things that help them — like writing in a journal.

“I know I’m supported and loved,” Bransfield said. “Often that’s the greatest thing – knowing that you’re not alone.”

Although the majority of respondents said they found it difficult to talk to others about mental health, nearly three-quarters said they had spoken to friends or family about their mental health or well-being.

Just over 4 in 10 respondents had spoken to a therapist or other health professional about a mental health problem. And 1 in 4 said they would like to speak to a professional but have not done so yet.

Bransfield said she feels both uncertain and optimistic about the future. Her problems with eating have improved, but she knows they’re still a part of her: she worries about financial security, the need for social justice, and attacks on LGBTQ people’s rights. The effects of the loneliness she felt during the COVID-19 lockdowns have been long-lasting, she said.

But she also has big plans for her future — she wants to open a dance studio cafe that will serve as a community gathering place.

“There’s so much uncertainty, and that uncertainty can be really scary,” she said. At the same time, “you can be optimistic and happy and feel good about it.”

Maxwell, from Rady Children’s Hospital, said while the survey results were worrying, he was also optimistic things could improve.

“We have good treatments,” he said. “We know they work. We know what to do. We just have to give people access to these treatments.”

California is moving in a positive direction when it comes to offering support, Maxwell said, citing the state’s $4.7 billion effort to improve the mental health of young people that follows what Gov. Gavin Newsom called called “decades of neglect”.

The state’s plan aims to overhaul existing systems, including helping schools provide better treatment, creating virtual assessment platforms and developing suicide prevention programs.

Sarah Reyes, communications director for the California Endowment, said the concerns, fears and depression reported by young people should concern everyone.

“They never think young people care. That’s usually left to all of us going gray,” she said. “So we have to stop, and we have to listen and identify so that we can help them.” Young Californians have high rates of anxiety, depression, poll says

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