Washington State Mental Health: Teen and Young Adult Statistics

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Washington State is known for its booming tech industry, natural beauty, and environmentally friendly policies. But when it comes to Washington State mental health rankings, statistics show that teens and young adults aren’t getting the care they need.

Access to Washington State Mental Health Services for Teen Depression

As the rate of teen depression rises across the country, Washington State is no exception. In its 2019 survey assessing youth depression statistics, Mental Health America (MHA) found that 13 percent of youth ages 12–17 in Washington State suffered from major depression during the past year. Hence, the 2019 survey ranked Washington State at number 30 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of prevalence of teen depression.

In addition, the report found that a vast majority of adolescents with depression are not receiving treatment. In fact, the MHA survey determined that 62 percent of youth with major depression do not receive any Washington State mental health services.

Therefore, 39,000 young people in the state who are suffering from depressive symptoms did not receive care. Hence, Washington ranks at number 25 among the states in terms of access to youth mental healthcare, indicating that Washington behavioral health services need widespread improvement and attention.

“Six out of 10 young people [in Washington State] who have depression and who are most at risk of suicidal thoughts, difficulty in school, and difficulty in relationships with others do not get the treatment needed to support them.”
—The State of Mental Health in America 2018

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Anxiety Among College Students in Washington State

Furthermore, many young people in Washington State suffer from emotional distress and anxiety disorders. A Healthy Minds survey collected mental health data on more than 10,000 students at 13 of Washington’s two- and four-year colleges and universities. Here are some results of that survey:

  • 26 percent of college students reported experiencing anxiety.
  • Nearly 4 out of 5 students reported that emotional distress negatively impacted their academic performance.
  • 76 percent reported academic difficulties due to emotional or mental health issues.

According to the most recent report by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, counseling center clients most often sought help for anxiety (58.9 percent), followed by depression (48 percent), stress (46.9 percent), relationship problems (29.5 percent), family concerns (29 percent), and suicidal thoughts (28.4 percent). As a result, Washington State mental health services, like the rest of the nation, is working to increase the number of mental health counselors available to college students during this often challenging time of life.

Substance Abuse Disorder in Washington State Youth

Moreover, the 2018 MHA survey found that 5.4 percent of Washington State youth ages 12–17 suffer from substance use disorder (SUD). Hence, the state ranks at number 40 nationally, putting it among the states with the highest SUD prevalence.

The most recent Washington State Healthy Youth Survey shows the following statistics regarding substance use among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

  • 21 percent use e-cigarettes and vaping products.
  • 19 percent drink alcohol, and 10 percent engage in binge drinking.
  • 18 percent use marijuana.
  • 7 percent abuse prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them.
  • About 2,500 Washington State 12th graders have tried heroin at least once in their lifetime and about 3,500 use pain killers to get high in any given month.
  • More than half of the 12th graders who reported using marijuana also reported driving within three hours of using the drug, at least once in the month prior to the survey.


New Washington State Mental Health Laws Permit Parents to Request Youth Mental Healthcare

The statistics clearly show that many of the state’s teens and young adults are in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment. But until recently, Washington State mental health laws allowed individuals over age 13 to refuse mental healthcare. Consequently, parents couldn’t initiate appointments with a mental health professional unless their teenage children agreed to it—even when the teens urgently needed assessment and treatment.

However, that has changed with the passage of House Bill 1874, which went into effect in July 2019. Teens can still independently make the decision to enter treatment. But the new law allows parents and guardians to request care for mental health or substance abuse disorders without the minor’s consent, for outpatient or inpatient treatment. Under the new bill, parents now have access to treatment plans, psychoeducation, and support, including parenting strategies.

Five Tips to Overcome Teen Resistance to Mental Healthcare

Whether or not they have the legal right to initiate an assessment for their teen, parents often find that their adolescent resists treatment. Here are five tips for overcoming teen resistance.

  1. Find out exactly what they’re concerned about so you know how to address their specific fears.
  2. Use an analogy that reframes the situation: For example, therapy is in some ways like working with a coach to learn new skills.
  3. Make an agreement that they will go to a set number of therapy sessions (at least five) before deciding whether or not to continue treatment.
  4. Try an online therapist. Some teenagers may feel more comfortable when there’s a physical distance between them and the clinician.
  5. Go to therapy as a family. Teens are less likely to feel singled out, if everyone participates in the process.

In summary, awareness is growing regarding Washington State mental health issues for teens and young adults. Parents, mental health professionals, and policymakers continue to advocate for greater access to care, so that adolescents can get the support they need to recover and thrive.