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Teen mental health: Addressing the need for resources

Teen mental health: Addressing the need for resources
Teen mental health: Addressing the need for resources 04:09

Teen suicide is on the rise, making it the second leading cause of death for teens. And last month we told you that here in California and across the nation there is an alarming shortage of mental health care for kids.

Only 16 of our 58 counties in California have psychiatric hospital beds for children. Kristine Lazar explores what resources we do have.

These teens are here to listen.

"It's almost like you're reaching out and gaining a new friend for a little bit," said Luna McNeff Yee.

"There is just a bond there that's kind of immediate when I pick up the phone that just says 'I'm on your team and I'm at your level and I'm here to help,'" said Teen Line volunteer Charlie Kapinos.

Charlie Kapinos and Luna McNeff Yee are local high school seniors who volunteer for Didi Hirsch's Teen Line.

"Teens tend to call about relationships and school stress and family stress," said Yee. "Really they can call about anything. And sometimes we will talk to callers who are having suicidal thoughts or we'll talk to callers who are experiencing child abuse or relationship abuse."

Teen Line, (800-852-8336, or text the keyword "teen" to 839863) is open every night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific Time, and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. for texting.  

Volunteers complete 65 hours of training and another nearly 100 hours of observation before they ever take a call.

"So I put them up against some of the best licensed marriage and family therapists, I put them up against some of the best of us, because they also know what it's like to be a teen," said Teen Line Senior Director Cheryl Eskin.

Teen Line has been around since 1980. But lately, the severity of the calls they receive is on the rise.

"I would say a lot of my calls have been about suicidal thoughts," said Kapinos.

The age of the youngest callers is dropping.

"We've really had an increase in the number of teens under 12 reaching out, that now it's about 10 percent of our contacts, whereas it used to be, a couple years ago, not that high," said Cheryl Eskin.

And yet the availability of mental health services for children has not kept pace with the need.

"We talk to people from all over the city, all over the country, in our emails we talk to people from all over the world," said Yee. "And because of that, we often recognize when we are trying to connect people with resources that are accessible to them, often there isn't much."

Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) is trying to change that.

"I've definitely faced with my own patients through the years, even pre-pandemic, really not being able to get them into therapy in a timely manner," said Christine Mirzaian, a CHLA pediatrician.

That's why CHLA applied for and was awarded a $2.5 million grant to train up to 190 pediatric residents to address the growing mental health crisis facing our local kids.

"Really we get complaints of anxiety, depression, even suicidal ideation, daily, and if a child comes in for well-child check or a teenager comes in for vaccines, and then we do screen, routinely it's often revealed that there's something really serious going on," said Mirzaian.

The idea is that if you can get to these kids early in their crisis, you prevent them from ever needing to be in the emergency room.

"That's the goal," said Mirzaian.  "You're addressing it as soon as soon as it's coming up. You're not waiting for referrals out. You're not kind of sending to another place to get addressed."

The $2.5 million grant will also fund a psychologist at Children's Hospital Los Angeles to be present in the clinic to answer medical residents' questions in real-time.

To contact Teen Line, call 1-800-852-8336, or text the keyword "teen" to 839863. The phone line is open every night from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Pacific Time, and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. PT for texting.

For more coverage: Inside America's youth mental health crisis


If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email

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