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California’s public mental health system is a lifeline for children, youth, and adults who currently need – or one day will require – treatment for a mental health condition. However, this system is enormously complex. While many Californians with mental health needs manage to navigate this complex system, others fall through the cracks. Fortunately, efforts are underway at the state level to improve California’s behavioral health system.

In this guide, you will find information that includes: rates of mental illness among California children, youth, and adults; why children in California’s child welfare system and youth in the juvenile justice system often need mental health care; estimates on the number of adults with mental illness who are homeless or in the criminal justice system; and how governance and funding is structured for the public mental health system.

Content Warning: This guide includes information about suicide.


  • Many Californians Experience Mental Health Conditions, Ranging From Mild to Serious     4
  • Mental Health Is Connected to Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, Homelessness, and Criminal Justice     23
  • Governance and Delivery of Public Mental Health Services Are Fragmented     41
  • Several Types of Hospitals and Residential FacilitiesProvide Care for Californians With Mental Illness     59
  • Funding for Public Mental Health Services Comes From Multiple Sources     65
  • Mental Health Policy in California: Looking Ahead     71

Support for the Budget Center’s work on behavioral health is provided by the California Health Care Foundation.

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