A Mental Health and Well-Being Guarantee

Our mental health is deeply connected to every element of our lives. It impacts our overall well-being and our ability to pursue our goals and aspirations. When young people are able to access mental health services and supports that are responsive and affirming and that promote health and healing, they gain a positive sense of identity, efficacy, and well-being, build resilience, and thrive. Young people who have the mental health supports they need are able to succeed in school, at work, and throughout life.

Yet all too often, young people struggle with their mental health and are unable to find the resources they need. We owe young people the support they need so they can be healthy and happy, and this includes mental health supports that promote health in holistic ways and are responsive to their identities and experiences.

For young people, there are many barriers to well-being, including out-of-pocket costs for certain therapies or treatments, waitlists, and disruptions in care. Mental health supports that are available are often narrowly focused on treating acute symptoms and stabilizing crises, and typically rely heavily on diagnoses and psychotropics or other pharmaceutical treatments, rather than on approaches that promote well-being. Young people may not be able to find a provider who accepts their insurance or new patients. Those who are able to find a provider may only see them for a brief period before having to switch to a new provider for insurance purposes or other reasons. And still others may find that providers fail to offer developmentally-appropriate, culturally-responsive, and affirming care.

As a CARES Ambassador in New York City shares, “when I was in care at 13, I was going through a lot of depression and anxiety, and the therapists that they were giving me, it was like, there was no connection, I didn’t wanna tell them anything. It was like no trust, no boundaries. It was just everything was just being forced and I had to go through seven therapists to find my actual therapist.”

It is time for our mental health system to reflect what young people need, including responsive supports for those aging out of foster care.

We owe young people a mental health and well-being guarantee in the form of a comprehensive health insurance program that integrates mental and behavioral health into the model of care, is available to all youth, and entirely free. This guarantee includes:

  • MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES AND SUPPORTS IN PLACES WHERE YOUNG PEOPLE SPEND TIME AND THAT ARE PROVIDED BY A DIVERSE WORKFORCE, INCLUDING PEERS. Services should be available wherever young people spend time, in places that are convenient and comfortable, such as schools, colleges, and places of worship. Youth centers are another important space, as they can provide integrated behavioral health services, social activities, and peer support, and operate outside of traditional health care. Peer support can be especially helpful, as it has been shown to improve mental health outcomes, including depression and substance use, and facilitate positive feelings of empowerment and hope.
  • LGBTQIA+-AFFIRMING MENTAL HEALTH CARE SERVICES AND SUPPORTS THAT PROMOTE HEALTHY IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT AND MEET THE NEEDS OF THIS POPULATION OF YOUNG PEOPLE. The services LGBTQIA+ young people access are often unresponsive, unappealing, or even unsafe. Young people should have access to care that is responsive to their needs, and affirming services and supports including gender- and identity- affirming care, with specific support for transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals.
  • A RANGE OF SUPPORTS INCLUDING THOSE THAT ARE FOCUSED ON PROMOTING WELLNESS AND HEALING. Services need to be designed to meet the needs of youth who seek mental health services, both in traditional clinical settings, and also in non-clinical settings that provide a more diverse set of mental health supports that promote health, healing, and well-being at any time and not just when there is an acute need or crisis. Approaches including mindfulness, guided imagery, and yoga are effective for young people experiencing anxiety or stress. These and other supports, including traditional healers, support group meetings, movement techniques, and resources that help young people make connections to their communities and cultural practices, should be available without conditions like the need for a diagnosis or limitations on the number of visits. Additionally, approaches such as Youth Thrive, which promotes healing, positive growth, and supportive relationships, can be used by families, educators, system partners, and youth workers to help young people identify and meet their needs.

Read the full policy agenda, A Policy Agenda for a Nation that CARES for Young Adults, here.