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Access to Adolescent Mental Health Care

Less than half of adolescents with psychiatric disorders received any kind of treatment in the past year. 1 A social stigma continues to surround mental health disorders, and mental health care is frequently difficult to access. In 2013, 10 percent of adolescents lacked insurance and, 2 when they are covered, the amount of mental health services they can receive is often limited. 3 Initially identifying a mental health disorder is also challenging—issues are often first identified at school. Researchers have documented a number of disparities in access. Among adolescents, those that are homeless; served by state child welfare and juvenile justice systems; and are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender are often the least likely to receive services. 4-6

Check out these resources for adolescent mental health services:

  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides the Mental Health Services Locator, an online, map-based program visitors can use to find facilities in their vicinity. Local organizations may be particularly helpful for addressing the mental health needs of adolescents in a specific community.
  • Adolescents (or anyone) in suicidal crisis or emotional distress can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. Calls made to this 24-hour hotline are routed to the caller’s nearest crisis center.
  • YouMatter is a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline site for young adults, complete with a blog where visitors can share problems and receive support.

Learn more about adolescent access to mental health services:


1 Costello, E. J., He, J. P., Sampson, N. A., Kessler, R. C., & Merikangas, K. R. (2013). Services for adolescents with psychiatric disorders: 12-month data from the National Comorbidity Survey–Adolescent.Psychiatric Services, 65(3), 459.
2 Child Trends. (2014). Child Trends analysis of 2013 National Health Interview Survey data. Bethesda, MD.
3 Schwarz, S. W. (2009). Adolescent mental health in the United States: Facts for Policymakers. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_878.pdf
4 Mustanski, B. S., Garofalo, R., & Emerson, E. M. (2010). Mental health disorders, psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth.American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2426-2432.
5 Morrow, S., & Howell, E. (2010). State mental health systems for children. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
6 United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. (2010). Opening doors: Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness, executive summary. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://www.va.gov/HOMELESS/docs/OpeningDoors2010FSP.pdf
Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on October 28, 2016