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Mental Health and Substance Use: A Crisis for California’s Youth

A growing number of youth in California experience mental illnesses and substance use disorders (SUDs). The incidence of major depressive episodes in adolescents has increased over the last five years, as has the national rate of alcohol and drug use. Unfortunately, access to mental health and SUD treatment falls far short: A majority of youth do not receive treatment.

Behavioral health conditions are illnesses of pediatric origin. Half of all mental illnesses appear by the mid-teens and three-quarters by the mid-20s. Many people first use alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs during adolescence, and studies have shown that the earlier people start, the greater the risk of later developing a substance use disorder.

For adolescents, mental illnesses and substance use disorders often occur together. As many as 60% to 75% of adolescents with substance use disorders are estimated to have a co-occurring mental illness. In some cases, substance use may begin as a strategy for self-medicating to manage psychiatric symptoms.

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