A guide to youth mental health and wellness

It’s common for children and teens to have mental health, emotional wellness, or substance use issues. In fact, 42% of high schoolers report feeling persistently sad or hopeless.1 And 1 in 6 Americans aged 6 to 17 experience a mental health condition each year.2

These issues are treatable, but it can be hard for parents or caregivers to know how to help, or where to find support. Please know you’re not alone — and neither is your child. We’re here for you.


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Common questions about youth mental health

Just like physical health, your mental health is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, family history, and social and environmental factors. Physical health factors like nutrition and sleep can also play a role. 

Experiences like the ones below can sometimes lead to mental health struggles — or make current ones worse. But just because your child experiences these issues doesn’t mean they have a mental health condition.

  • Grief and loss
  • Trauma, abuse, and violence
  • Bullying
  • Academic pressures
  • Questions about sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Issues with body image or self-esteem
  • Social media and peer pressure
  • Family issues like divorce or a parent losing their job
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Racism and discrimination 
  • Political and civil unrest
  • Global crises like climate change, social conflicts, and the COVID-19 pandemic

You know your child best. Recognizing signs of depression or anxiety can help you and your child’s care team catch issues early. Treatment is available and effective, and early detection can help prevent problems from becoming more serious. 

Reach out to your child’s care team if symptoms persist for more than a few weeks. Examples may include:

  • Persistent sadness that lasts 2 weeks or more
  • Feeling overly fearful, anxious, or worried
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
  • Extreme anger or irritability
  • Drastic changes in mood, behavior, or personality
  • Major changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Frequent headaches or stomachaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Falling behind in school or earning lower grades

If your child ever talks about wanting to hurt themselves or others, get help immediately.3 This would be considered a mental health emergency. Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

If your child needs addiction or mental health crisis support, you or your child can call or text 988 (TTY 711) or visit the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline’s chat for free, confidential support with a trained crisis counselor. The lifeline is provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

Please follow up with your child’s doctor afterward for extra support.

You don’t need a referral to get mental health and addiction medicine services.4 You or your child can talk about mental health concerns with anyone on your care team, at any time. We encourage you and your child to ask questions and share concerns with us whenever they come up. 

You also can get mental health and substance use screenings through pediatrics, primary care, and other specialties. Your care team performs screenings during routine appointments to help spot problems early and start conversations as soon as possible. 

Find care near you 

Children and teens have access to a broad range of mental health care. From preventive care to individual and group therapy to recovery and social support, they get similar services as adults — but care is tailored to the needs and experiences of young people. 

Members can also use self-care apps for help with stress, sleep, anxiety, and more. The apps are available 24/7 and at no additional cost. They can be helpful to anyone — either on their own or as part of clinical care. 

Care is provided by skilled care teams and is personalized to fit your child’s needs. Treatment for diagnosed conditions is typically managed by a mental health care clinician. Your child may see their primary care doctor or pediatrician, or a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or certified counselor if they need more support. They may get 1-on-1 therapy with a clinician, or group therapy where they can connect with other young people with similar issues.

Explore tools for mental fitness

24/7 self-care apps

Explore apps to help you manage stress, sleep better, deal with
depression, and more.

Classes and support groups

Join one of our group support programs or health education classes.5

Mental health symptom checker

Try Mental Health America’s symptom checklist to help see how often you or your child experience mental health challenges. 

Substance use risk assessment

Use the Partnership to End Addiction’s survey to help understand your child’s risk of substance use. 

Help yourself, help your friends

Learn how to better manage your mental health and be there for your friends when they need it most. Hear from content creators, gamers, game developers, and streamers as they give tips on how to recognize a problem, how to help others, and when to get expert help.

Watch the Presence of Mind videos

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Support and treatment are available

Talking to kids about mental health

We encourage parents to support, talk about, and advocate for their kids’ mental health the same way they do for their physical health. Learn how to start a conversation about mental health or substance use with your child.

A personalized approach to youth mental health 

Many children and teens have mental health, emotional wellness, and substance use issues. Asha Patton-Smith, MD, explains how she works with children, teens, and families to help them reach their unique goals. 

Common youth mental health conditions

Growing up is never easy. And sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between everyday challenges and signs of something more serious. Everyone’s experience is different, but it’s important to know these struggles are common and treatable — and support is available each step of the way. 

Explore the signs and symptoms of different mental health conditions, and how they’re treated.

More youth self-care and support resources


1 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report, 2011–2021, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023.

2 Daniel G. Whitney, PhD, and Mark D. Peterson, PhD, “U.S. National and State-Level Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders and Disparities of Mental Health Care Use in Children,” JAMA Pediatrics, 2019.

3 If you believe you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. For the complete definition of an emergency medical condition, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or other coverage documents.

4 To get some mental health and addiction care services, Medi-Cal members may need a referral to the county mental health plan.

5 Some members may have to pay a fee for certain classes.



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