How Can Young People in Minnesota Get the Care They Need?

How Can Young People in Minnesota Get the Care They Need?

Far too many struggling teens and young adults in Minnesota are not getting the treatment they need for major depression and other mental health conditions. According to Mental Health America (MHA)’s 2021 report tracking the 50 states and the District of Columbia, more than half of young people in the state are receiving no care at all for their mental health issues. These are troubling statistics at a time when nearly a quarter of 11th graders in Minnesota have considered suicide.

The MHA rankings show that 55.4 percent of Minnesota youth with major depression—translating to 32,000 adolescents—did not have access to mental healthcare in 2020. Furthermore, only about a quarter of teens with depression received any type of consistent treatment. Statistics for adults, including young adults, are similar, with 52.6 percent reporting that they received no treatment for mental illness.

The lack of access to mental health services in Minnesota is a problem that has been acknowledged by many of the state’s mental health experts. Dr. Joshua Stein, president of the Minnesota Society of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, says that the state faces two specific issues in delivering mental healthcare: difficulty creating “a good prevention model” to help identify individuals’ mental health issues before they reach a crisis point, and a severe shortage of care providers, particularly in rural areas of Minnesota. Stein described the shortfall as “an incredible issue.”

Young Adults Are Seeking Help for Anxiety, Depression, and Substance Abuse

Mental Health Minnesota reports that during the month of October 2020, nearly 3,200 people completed a mental health screening with the organization—a 600 percent increase when compared with the numbers in March 2020. And the majority of those who did the screening were under the age of 24, according to the organization. Overall, one-third of people searching for mental health resources through MHA last year was between the ages of 18 and 24. 

According to a survey administered by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 31 percent of Minnesota residents over 18 are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. In terms of substance use, the MHA rankings found that 307,000 adults in Minnesota are suffering from substance abuse disorder. Moreover, recent data from Minnesota’s Department of Human Services shows that 10 percent of young adults ages 18–20 and 13 percent of those 20 to 24 years old met the criteria for alcohol use disorder.

The State of Teen Mental Health in Minnesota and Nearby Chicago

Like adolescents across the nation, Minnesota teens are struggling, as rates of teen mental health problems, suicidal ideation, and vaping show. MHA’s 2021 report found that 61,000 Minnesota teens had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. Furthermore, one out of every 10 Minnesota teens experienced severe depressive episodes in 2020. In addition, 4 percent of youth in Minnesota (17,000 teens) suffer from a substance use disorder.

In the Chicago area, the closest major metropolitan area outside of Minnesota, the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey also shows highly troubling data on teen mental health. According to the survey, 17 percent of high school students in Chicago have seriously considered suicide, 13 percent have made a plan to attempt suicide, and 10 percent have actually made an attempt. In addition, 38 percent reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row.

In addition, nearly one out of every five adults in Minnesota suffers from a mental health condition, according to the MHA rankings, and 7 percent of adults have substance use disorder. Many of these individuals are likely young adults, as major depression typically begins in the mid-20s. Moreover, recent research on the pandemic’s influence on mental health shows that young adults are at higher risk than their older counterparts for anxiety, depression, and suicide.

What Minnesota Students Report About Their Mental Health

Every three years, Minnesota’s 5th-, 8th-, 9th- and 11th-grade students complete the Minnesota Student Survey, which provides insight that is used by state agencies to identify trends and inform initiatives to improve youth well-being. The most recent survey, the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey (MSS), shows that more Minnesota students than ever are suffering from long-term mental health, behavioral, or emotional problems. The number of students in the state who reported these issues rose from 18 percent in 2016 to 23 percent in 2019, with rates rising in all grades and for both genders.

Students’ reports of suicide ideation increased for all grade levels between 2013 and 2019. A disturbing 24 percent of 11th-grade students in the state—approximately one in every four Minnesota students—reported seriously considering suicide at some point in their lives. Nearly one in 10 students in 11th grade reported attempting suicide. In addition, LGBQ+ students were about three times more likely as their heterosexual peers to report seriously considering suicide, and four times as likely to actually attempt suicide. And the state’s transgender students in the 11th grade are at the highest risk of attempting suicide: They are four times more likely to do so than cisgender 11th-grade students.

In addition, 25 percent of Minnesota 11th-graders reported using an e-cigarette, also known as vaping, in the 30 days prior to the survey—a 54 percent increase from the 2016 survey. And twice as many 8th graders reported using an e-cigarette in the past 30 days, compared to the 2016 MSS.

Furthermore, mental health and substance issues are most certainly more severe today, in light of the pandemic’s impact on youth mental health across the country. Since March 2020, teens and young adults—including Minnesota youth—have been more likely than any other age groups to experience moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Outcomes-Driven Care for Adolescents and Young Adults

In the most successful treatment programs for teens and young adults, the clinical model of care addresses the underlying causes of mental health and co-occurring disorders, not just the behavioral symptoms. Working with credentialed behavioral healthcare experts who are passionate about supporting young people, clients begin to heal the trauma and attachment wounds that catalyze anxiety, depression, and maladaptive behaviors like substance abuse, self-harm, and eating disorders.

Research finds that longer-term care (at least 90 days of treatment) is necessary to make lasting positive change. Therefore, the highest-quality programs provide strengths-based academic and life skills programming, so young people continue to progress in school and career development while receiving the mental health treatment they desperately need. Each client has a tailored treatment plan, with clear goals and measurable outcomes, and once they are ready to leave treatment, clinicians work with them to create a comprehensive plan for continuing care after discharge.

An Integrative and Integrated Approach

An approach that is both integrative and integrated typically includes a variety of evidence-based clinical and experiential modalities, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Family therapy, such as the Attachment-Based Family Therapy model designed to prevent suicide
  • Group therapy that helps clients build community and overcome the feelings of isolation caused by anxiety and depression
  • Experiential approaches such as Equine-Assisted Therapy, horticulture and culinary therapy, and art and music therapy
  • Mindfulness approaches like yoga and meditation.

Teens and young adults experience a structured schedule that allows them to learn and practice new, healthy approaches to daily living and self-care, and build trusting, supportive relationships with peers and mentors. In addition, they learn skills for building resilience and coping with stress and difficult emotions.

Moreover, the most effective and compassionate treatment programs recognize that the recovery journey centers on building healthy relationships with self, others—including family and loved ones—and one’s larger community. These authentic connections are at the heart of successful treatment, and an essential element of achieving long-term, sustainable healing.


  • Mental Health American Rankings 2021
  • Weekly. 2020 Aug;69(32):1049–1057.
  • Youth Risk Behavior Survey
  • Minnesota Student Survey 2019