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How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Trained Professional and youth


… I got linked with an amazing therapist and, through that, an intensive case manager who linked me with this youth group… I go and for the first time in a very long time I met other young people that had been through similar situations as me, and even if they hadn't been through the exact same situation, we shared common feelings of loneliness, feeling like you don't belong. And I found home, so to speak, again and through that I started advocating for young people and then I started doing it more on a community basis and then more on a state level…

Tricia Gurley, at the Interagency Working Group for Youth Programs’ October 2009 meeting, “Innovative Collaborations to Improve Youth Outcomes: A Federal, State, and Local Dialogue”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), approximately 45 million Americans have experienced some type of mental illness in the last year. As many as 11 million (4.8 percent) suffer from serious mental illness (SMI), with young adults aged 18 to 25 representing the highest percentage of adults suffering from SMI and other mental illnesses.1 SMI is considered by SAMHSA to be any mental health disorder which seriously impacts one or more major life activities.2 In addition, more than a quarter of those suffering from a mental illness also suffer from co-occurring substance abuse or dependence.3 The onset for 50 percent of adult mental health disorders occurs by age 14, and for 75 percent of adults by age 24.4

Because of this, adolescence is a critical time period for prevention and early intervention, counseling and transition planning, and service delivery.

  • Recent research suggests that one out of eight U.S. children (13.1 percent) met the criteria for a mental health disorder in the past year and 11.3 percent of children aged 8 to15 met the criteria for a severe mental impairment.5
  • In 2010 about 8.0 percent of youth aged 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode, with 5.6 percent experiencing a major depressive episode that resulted in severe impairment. In addition, females and older youth were more likely to experience a major depressive episode.6
  • In 2009, 6.5 percent of 15- to 17-year-olds experienced definite or severe emotional or behavioral difficulties, and 14 percent experienced minor difficulties.7
  • About 12 percent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 received outpatient, inpatient, or residential treatment for mental illness in 2010, with the majority reporting outpatient treatment. About 12 percent of youth also reported receiving some mental health based services through a school based setting.8 Of the youth who received treatment, the majority reported that it was due to feeling depressed, having problems with family members, and acting out or breaking rules.9

These statistics highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

1, 2, 3 SAMHSA, 2012a
4Kessler et al, 2007
5Merekengis et al, 2010; SAMHSA, 2012b
6, 7, 8, 9 SAMHSA, 2012a; SAMHSA, 2012b