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Need for Services Among Young Adults Exceeds Capacity

About half of young adults had mental health symptoms during the pandemic and more than a third of those were unable to access mental health therapy, shows a study by researchers in the Department of Pediatrics.

The researchers used data that young adults provided in response to questions about their mental health in June to July 2021 in the national Household Pulse Survey.

“We were concerned about a number of reports documenting that young adults had increased mental health care needs and we wanted to tap into a data set that tracks the health and well-being of adolescents and young adults,” said Charles Irwin Jr. a UCSF professor of pediatrics and senior author on the study. “We hoped it would give us some information about whether young people are able to get into health care delivery systems.”

The researchers found that:

  • 48% percent of the young adults surveyed had mental health symptoms
  • 39% had used medications and/or received counseling
  • 31% had used prescription medications, with rates highest among females, non-Hispanic others and insured
  • 24% percent had received counseling

“Despite the development of virtual platforms for providing mental health services, the current need for services far exceeds the capacity to provide them,” Irwin said of the results. “This should make all of us deeply concerned about our young people and the lack of services to meet their needs.”

Critically, the study found that rates for all these were highest for females, non-Hispanic others, and insured young adults, with no significant subgroup differences.

“The study also highlights the need to increase the capacity of providers to deliver culturally appropriate mental health care,” said Sally Adams. A senior author on the study, Adams is a UCSF professor of pediatrics who provides statistical support for the National Adolescent and Young Adult Health Information Center (NAHIC).

At UCSF, the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine plays a critical role in screening young people for behavioral health issues, including eating disorders, major depressive disorders and substance use disorders to connect young people to appropriate care.

Read the study results here