Mental Health in Light of Covid-19: California’s Underserved Youth and Families

January 4, 2021

As published by the Youth Law Center earlier this year, prior to the pandemic, one in six children in California aged 6-17 experienced some mental health issue such as depression or anxiety. Considered alongside the fact that the national suicide rate has increased by 33% since 1999, the US, and California more specifically, is in the midst of a mental health crisis. With the onset of stressors due to Covid-19, underserved populations are being hit especially hard when it comes to both mental and physical health information and access. In an effort to evaluate the ongoing conversation and data surrounding better serving these populations, this literature review, “Mental Health in Light of Covid-19:California’s Underserved Youth and Families”, looked at recently published data and information surrounding mental health in light of Covid-19 for California’s most vulnerable youth and families. The populations focused on within this report were the Indigenous and Native American communities, LGBTQ+ youth, and Black youth and families. Additionally, the report considers the effects of economic hardship brought on by the pandemic, and how this has affected access to mental health care.

           With the data painting an alarming picture of the state of mental health within California, there remain several areas in which data collection must be improved. Primary mental health care information released during the pandemic looks to strategies for managing one's mental health on their own time, and within their own homes. Yet, many of these prescriptions disregard the systemic inequity contributing to populations experiencing far higher Covid death and hospitalization rates, as well as needing more tangible intervention, rather than informal care alone. Telehealth has been shown to be extremely promising improving access to care that is both culturally appropriate and may have been physically out of reach before. Looking for ways to improve the accessibility of telehealth, through stable internet connection and persona devices, will vastly improve the accessibility of mental health care moving forward. Furthermore, as reflected within the executive summary to this report, many of the underserved communities discussed currently benefit primarily from informal means of mental health care, with schools, community centers, families, and faith based organizations serving as de facto mental health centers. Thus, the policy recommendations explored within the report primarily look at ways to bolster these systems in the midst of the pandemic, while increasing accessibility in the long term. The implementation of peer support specialists under SB 803, if developed to specifically serve underserved populations, will be formative in creating jobs in the mental health sector, feeding into the informal means of care that are currently in use, and will work to break down the remaining barriers and stigma to discussing mental health in everyday life. Furthermore, the criteria for certifying peer support specialists must be developed with the guidance of mental health professionals who are either a part of underserved communities, or have wide experience working with them. Similarly, a school based mental health mandate would provide youth not only with a greater understanding of the importance of their mental health, but also raise awareness for the channels of mental health care access available to them. Using the Covid-19 crisis as a catalyst for improving our systems, and with California’s legislators increasingly focusing on these crucial issues as we emerge from the pandemic, the potential to rework the system and serve more individuals will be higher than ever before. This report offers an overview of the data for each population, as well as a summary of the next steps and policy recommendations that may be beneficial to each population given the current statistics.

You can find more information and a full literature review here.


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