Should income status determine the mental health care that youth receive? Of course not. And in California, there is finally legislation to prevent this.
Assembly Bill 665, passed by the state Legislature, would ensure all Medi-Cal youth have equal access to vital mental health counseling and support. It’s time to break down barriers, prioritize well-being, and create a future in which mental health care is a right, not a privilege.
A staggering 78% of California LGBTQ+ youth have considered suicide, and nearly one-third attempted it, over a recent 12-month span. Yet in California, fewer than 19% of low-income teens on Medi-Cal received screenings for depression and a follow-up plan, according to 2020 data. How is this fair?
These disparities hit communities of color the hardest. More than half of California’s children under Medi-Cal — the state’s Medicaid program — are Black and children of color, and Indigenous youth receive the lowest rates of mental health screenings at less than 9%.
California is home to a diverse and vibrant population of young people, with roughly half of them covered by Medi-Cal. Sadly, a large portion of these youth face significant barriers in accessing mental health services, exacerbating an ongoing youth mental health crisis. In particular, marginalized communities — such as communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and people from low-income backgrounds — are disproportionately harmed by the lack of equitable mental health support.
The impact of this disparity is harrowing. Despite an overall decrease in the suicide rate in California, youth — particularly Black, Latine, and females — experienced disproportionate increases in suicide rates. It’s clear the current system is failing our youth. Change is urgently needed.
Recognizing the critical importance of addressing this crisis, California has taken some recent steps to improve mental health care access for young people. The state’s Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative and the ongoing Medi-Cal reforms through California Advancing and Innovating Medi-Cal aim to move the system of mental health care upstream by expanding prevention and early intervention services for children and youth.
However, despite these efforts, significant barriers to care remain. Surveys have shown mandatory parental involvement or notification drastically reduces the likelihood that teens will receive needed treatment. For many youth, family stigma surrounding mental health treatment or fear of immigration enforcement discourages them from seeking the care they desperately need. Additionally, LGBTQ+ youth who live in unsupportive home environments are further deterred from accessing mental health services.
The disparities in mental health support for Medi-Cal youth are a reflection of broader societal issues. Socioeconomic status should never be a determining factor in the mental health care a young person receives. Mental health is a fundamental aspect of overall well-being, and every young person deserves the opportunity to access care and support that fosters their growth and resilience.
AB 665 presents a crucial opportunity to address the injustices faced by youth covered by Medi-Cal and create a more equitable mental health care system. Under current law, youth 12 and older can consent to outpatient mental health care in certain circumstances without a parent or guardian’s consent — but youth utilizing their Medi-Cal benefits must reach a much higher level of acuity than their privately-insured peers. AB 665, if signed, will align the consent standards for youth, regardless of their family’s income level.
By eliminating barriers based on income status, AB 665 prioritizes the well-being of youth, regardless of their circumstances. We have the collective power to drive change and break down barriers that block access to mental health care. Together, let’s stand up for the well-being of our youth, especially those from marginalized communities who have been historically underserved.