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Report by California Health Interview Survey, led by Dr. Ninez Ponce, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Fred W. and Pamela K. Wasserman professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management, highlights urgent need for mental health services, challenges in accessing medical care
The number of 18-to-24-year-olds in California who reported having thought about committing suicide at some point in their lives increased to 30.5% in 2021 from 23.9% in 2020 — the year COVID-19 emerged in the U.S. — according to new data published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.
Those figures represent a dramatic increase from just five years ago. The research center’s 2016 survey found that 14.1% of California’s young adults said they had experienced thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives.
The 2021 data is from the latest California Health Interview Survey, the nation’s largest annual health survey on a single state. The survey highlights the consequences of the pandemic in terms of people’s mental health and their ability to afford or access needed health care.
In the study, 36.7% of respondents age 13 to 17 said they needed help for emotional or mental health problems, but 26.2% of them did not receive any counseling in the past year.
“There is an urgent need for resources that will aid Californians through a crisis that’s dramatically affecting people’s mental health,” said Dr. Ninez Ponce, the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health’s Fred W. and Pamela K. Wasserman professor and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management and principal investigator of the California Health Interview Survey. “Our findings show that more people are experiencing serious psychological distress, more people are in need of professional help and more people are reporting moderate or severe impairment in their work, social lives, relationships and daily activities. Our hope is that these data will be used by policymakers and the public to help improve the Californians’ health.”
The survey covers more than 100 other topics on Californians’ physical and mental health, including new-for-2021 questions on traumatic childhood experiences, encounters with police, climate change and gun violence.
Among the other findings:
The percentage of California adults who reported having had at least one traumatic childhood event was 67.3%.
While 21.5% of all California adults reported having been stopped at least once by police in the past three years, the percentage was significantly higher, 36.4%, among Black or African American adults.
Tracing the health effects of climate change, the researchers found that 44.8% of adults said they had experienced an extreme weather–related event in the prior two years. Survey participants cited extreme heat waves, flooding, wildfires, smoke from wildfires and power shutoffs to prevent wildfires.
The 2021 survey includes responses from 24,453 adults, 1,169 teens and 4,067 children. Children’s survey response were obtained through their parents.
“As the largest and most diverse state, California is often looked at as a model that strives toward health equity,” said Todd Hughes, director of the California Health Interview Survey. “However, the data show there is still a need to address some of the inequities in California that have been magnified since the start of the pandemic.”
By Vanessa Villafuerte
The UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, founded in 1961, is dedicated to enhancing the public's health by conducting innovative research, training future leaders and health professionals from diverse backgrounds, translating research into policy and practice, and serving our local communities and the communities of the nation and the world. The school has 761 students from 26 nations engaged in carrying out the vision of building healthy futures in greater Los Angeles, California, the nation and the world.