Focus on the Figures is a regular partnership between The Chronicle of Social Change and KidsData.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing data on the health and well-being of California’s children.
Mental health is critical to equipping young people for the challenges of growing up and living as healthy adults. Sound emotional and mental health, which is more than the absence of disorders, includes effective coping skills and the ability to form positive relationships, adapt in the face of challenges and function well.
Studies estimate that each year up to one in five U.S. children experience a mental disorder. Approximately $247 billion is spent addressing the mental health challenges of children.
Depression is one of the most common emotional health problems among youth, with an estimated 11 percent of U.S. adolescents diagnosed with depression by age 18. Youth with depression are more likely to engage in suicidal behavior, drop out of school, use alcohol or drugs, and have unsafe sexual activity, in addition to having difficulties with school and relationships.
In California, 25 percent of public school staff reported that student depression or mental health was a moderate or severe problem at their school, according to 2011-13 data. During the same period, 25 percent of seventh graders, 31 percent of ninth graders, and 33 percent of 11th graders reported that, in the past year, they had been so sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks that they stopped doing some usual activities.
Hispanic/Latino and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students were the groups with the highest percentage of youth reporting depression-related feelings. In most counties, the percentage of African-American students reporting such feelings was either on par with or below the percentage of white students.
But it is the most vulnerable student population that is also the most likely to experience that persistent sense of hopelessness. Nearly 40 percent of “non-traditional students” — a group comprised of students in continuing education or who attend schools for youth who have been expelled — report depression-related feelings.
It is obviously difficult to identify the sources and causes of depression among teenagers. But there is an unmistakable correspondence in California between feelings of depression and a sense of connection to school.
About 22 percent of students who reported a high connection to school reported depression-related feelings. Among the students who reported a low connection to school, about 43 percent also reported depression-related feelings.