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Mental Health Services Act: A Step-by-Step Guide for Teens and Young Adults in California

Understanding the California Mental Health Services Act (MHSA)

More than 2 million people in California, including teens and young adults, are affected by potentially disabling mental health disorders yearly. In November 2004, California voters passed the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), Proposition 63, to combat underfunded state and county mental health systems. This law called for transforming the mental health system while improving the quality of life for Californians living with mental health issues. The MHSA is funded by a one percent income tax on personal income of more than $1 million annually. It aims to support a wide range of prevention, early intervention, treatment, mental health services and the development of infrastructure, workforce, and technology needed to carry out those services. The MSHA has addressed the urgent need for accessible, community-based mental health services.

Contact BeWellLine by calling our help center at 866-349-0854 to learn more about using virtual mental health services.

The Role of the California Department of Mental Health

County mental health departments are responsible for implementing MHSA programs. However, this law mandates several entities, including the State Department of Mental Health (DMH), to supervise these counties. The DMH’s role is to approve county three-year implementation plans and pass program responsibilities to the counties. It requires counties to incorporate the following five essential components:

  • Community collaboration
  • Culturally competent
  • Wellness focus, including recovery and resilience
  • Client/family-driven mental health systems for children, young people, adults, and senior adults
  • Integrated service experiences for clients and their families throughout their services with the mental health system

California Guide For Mental Health Services for Teens

Between 2019 and 2021, roughly one-third of California teens experience severe psychological distress, including a 20% increase in suicides. Despite the historic lack of focus on this part of the population, the MHSA has provided funding for children and youth and college students dealing with mental health disorders. It has provided programs that address the broad spectrum of needs of teens and their caregivers/families, including services such as:

  • Crisis support: Crisis intervention teams can help teens experiencing a mental health crisis, such as suicide prevention, crisis stabilization units, and mobile crisis teams.
  • Peer/family support specialists: Teens can receive peer support counseling through helplines, warm lines, and in person. These services can help with various mental health issues, interpersonal issues, and family issues, including helping families communicate better.
  • Reducing disparities: Aimed at improving access to mental health care for underserved communities, such as teens and youth experiencing stress transitioning from elementary to middle school and middle school to high school.
  • Housing: Various counties have housing programs to prevent homelessness for at-risk teens and those experiencing mental health issues. Programs can also help families keep their homes.

MHSA has funded a wide range of programs which vary depending on each county. Some other programs include art therapy, mental health assistance to teen mothers, LGBTQ support, substance abuse treatment programs, and behavioral help for incarcerated teens. Teens can access these programs by contacting their County Mental Health Plan’s number listed here: They can also visit their county health department’s website, which will list all the programs and services available to them.

California Mental Health Services for Young Adults

MHSA has also funded several programs geared toward the needs of young adults in California. Mental health issues in young adults can lead to various issues, including homelessness, substance abuse, joblessness, incarceration, and domestic violence. Like services available for teens, MHSA has programs in crisis support, peer and family support, housing, and reducing disparities, such as for Latino and LGBTQ+ communities. Mental health services for young adults vary from county to county and can be accessed by visiting or calling your county mental health department listed here: Various free crisis support lines like CalHOPE and BeWellLine have specialized peer support counselors for young adults.

Contact BeWellLine by calling our help center at 866-349-0854 to learn more about using virtual mental health services.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Navigating the MHSA

MHSA provides funding for county mental health services. Every county’s department of mental health implements and oversees the programs, which will vary from department to department. The best way to navigate the MHSA is to visit your County Mental Health Department site or by calling their number, which can be found here:

County Mental Health Departments provide mental health and substance abuse services to residents within their county. The first step is to complete the intake process, which can be done over the phone or by visiting their office. Clinical staff will conduct a mental health assessment which can include questions about your symptoms, how long you have been dealing with those problems, and what you would like help with. They will then determine which programs are best suited for you or make the necessary referrals. Their goal is to offer you an appointment within 10 business days of your request for services in their clinic. Some services you can expect from the County Mental Health Department include:

  • Medication evaluation and services, including psychiatry appointments via telehealth.
  • Case management to assist you with food, financial assistance, signing up for social security disability, finding a job, and connecting with healthcare services.
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Family Counseling
  • Therapeutic behavioral services (TBS)
A Step-by-Step Guide to Navigating the MHSA

MSHA Programs for Youth

Specific programs within the MHSA targeting youth will vary from county to county. Here are just a few examples of programs available and their benefits:

  • Art Therapy Program (Calaveras County): Through various workshops, at-risk teens and young adults can express themselves artistically to find new coping skills, manage emotions, and build self-confidence.
  • Transitions (Orange County): This program helps at-risk youth who are transitioning from elementary to middle school or middle school to high school with goals related to preventing behavioral health issues through education and reducing stigma for asking for help when needed.
  • MITE East Teen Recovery Center (San Diego County): A non-residential treatment and recovery service for adolescents aged 12 to 17 with alcohol or other drug-induced problems.

Understanding the Benefits of MHSA for Young Adults

Young adults in California can benefit from many services funded by the MHSA. Many of these services are aimed at helping young people with mental health issues who are facing added issues such as homelessness, co-occurring substance abuse, exposure to trauma, multiple foster care placement, school failure, and issues with the juvenile justice system. Young adults in California can receive case management services, mental health screenings and treatment, programs to promote wellness and recovery, assistance finding housing, school and employment assistance, and much more. Transitioning into adulthood can be difficult for anyone, and MHSA-funded programs are available to set you on the right path with the right resources.

The Role of the California Mental Health Services Authority

The California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) is a Joint Powers of Authority (JPA) that aims to work on collaborative, multi-county projects that improve behavioral health care for all Californians. Their role is to provide a framework to implement MHSA funds to counties to create effective mental health services and programs. It is governed by a board of directors made up of the local city or county mental/behavioral health director. The JPA has three committees: the Advisory Committee, Finance Committee, and Executive Committee, which are subject to the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC).

County mental health agencies wanting funding for their programs are required to develop and detail plans for the use of MHSA funds in each of the required six components, which are: community program planning, community services and supports (CSS), prevention and early intervention (PEI), innovation, capital facilities, and technology needs (CFTN), and workforce education and training.

California Mental Health Hotline and Other Resources

California offers various hotlines and warmlines to help individuals who are experiencing a mental health crisis or experiencing a challenging period in their lives. California mental health hotline includes 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which is available 24 hours a day and is for those who are suicidal or in emotional distress. Other crises and emotional helplines for teens and young adults in California include:

  • CalHope: A warm line that connects callers to peer counselors to help them through stress, anxiety, depression, and everyday struggles. It is accessible 24/7 through online chat or by calling 1-833-317-4673.
  • Youth Crisis Line: A 24/7 emergency response system for youth ages 12 to 24 and families in crisis. Callers can receive support and referrals for various issues, including homelessness, running away, depression, self-harm, suicide, and parental or family violence. It is available via text or call at 800-843-5200.
  • LGBT Youth TalkLine: A warmline for opening up and talking about coming out, bullying, isolation, family issues, identity, and much more. It is anonymous, confidential, and available Monday to Friday from 1 to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. (Pacific) at 800-246-7743.
  • Teen Line: This warm line connects callers to other teens who are available to listen, understand, and answer questions about any issue. It is available every day from 6 to 10 p.m. (Pacific) by calling 800-852-8336 or texting 839863.
  • BeWellLine: An online chat or phone voice-based service at 866-349-6597 which connects callers to peer support counselors. While any California resident can use this free service, they also offer specialized counselors for teens and young adults. They can also connect you with resources and higher levels of care, including six additional sessions with a peer support counselor via the Mindfuli app. Services are available 24/7 and include services in Spanish. Response time is typically one minute.

Final Thoughts on Navigating the MHSA in California

Thanks to MHSA, California residents have access to many low-cost and free mental health support services. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of all the programs available in their counties which can provide emotional support and resources for dealing with various issues, including homelessness. The best way to find what programs are available near you is by visiting your county’s Mental Health Department webpage, offices, or calling them, which you can find here: After your initial evaluation, clinicians and caseworkers can point you in the right direction of programs in your area that are funded by MHSA which are the best fit for you. 

Contact BeWellLine by calling our help center at 866-349-0854 to learn more about using virtual mental health services.

FAQs About California’s Mental Health Services Act

What is the California Mental Health Services Act (MHSA)?

Proposition 63, also known as the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA), was passed in November 2004 to combat underfunded state and county mental health systems. It aims to provide low-cost and free mental health services to populations with little access to mental health services. It is funded by a one percent income tax on those whose personal income exceeds $1 million a year. It aims to address the need for accessible, community-based mental health services, including prevention, early intervention, mental health treatment, and the development of infrastructure, technology, and workforce.

How does the California Department of Mental Health work with the MHSA?

The California Department of Mental Health works with the MHSA by passing program responsibilities to counties and approving three-year plans that counties submit. They oversee overall county programs and require them to incorporate certain components when submitting program plans.

What kind of mental health services does MHSA provide for teens in California?

MHSA recognizes the benefits of exercise in mental health, especially for the youth. This understanding informs their approach to providing a variety of mental health services geared toward teens and their unique needs. They include crisis support such as hotlines, crisis stabilization units, and mobile crisis teams, designed to help teens avoid inpatient hospitalization. Beyond immediate crisis management, the power of physical activity intertwined with mental well-being is acknowledged, and therefore, teens can also access peer/family support specialists. These services, encompassing both in-person and telehealth counseling sessions, highlight the benefits of exercise in mental health and its role in therapeutic strategies. The MHSA is also steadfast in its mission to reduce disparities in underserved communities, focusing on groups like teens, LGBTQ+, and Latino youths. Housing programs are yet another pillar, aiming to prevent homelessness for at-risk teens, ensuring that the physical and mental benefits of a stable environment are not underestimated. However, it's essential to note that services might vary from county to county.

How can young adults in California benefit from the MHSA?

Transitioning into adulthood is difficult without the right type of help and resources. Young adults can get help through the MHSA for various issues they may face, including substance abuse, joblessness, homelessness, transitioning out of foster care, domestic violence, and incarceration. They can also access free or affordable mental health services in their county to help them navigate this life transition.

How can I navigate the MHSA to access mental health services?

The best way to navigate the MHSA is to visit your county’s Mental Health Department office or website or by calling them directly. Websites can provide information on various programs available in your county and also offer an initial assessment of your case so clinicians and caseworkers can help you figure out the best programs for you. Here is a provider directory listed by County where you can find your local Mental Health Department office:

What are some of the MHSA programs specifically designed for youth?

MHSA programs will vary from county to county and include a wide range of services and programs designed specifically for various issues youth face. Programs include mental health support, academic stressors, bullying, homelessness, domestic abuse or violence, support groups for teens with parents with substance abuse issues, LGBTQ+ support, crisis intervention, and much more. To find a full list of programs by county, you can visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) MHSA County Programs Report here:

What role does the California Mental Health Services Authority play in MHSA?

The California Mental Health Services Authority provides a framework for implementing MHSA funds to counties to create effective mental health services and programs. A governing board of directors ensures funds are allocated to the right places and used correctly. They require counties to submit a 3-year plan with six essential components, which are approved by the California Department of Mental Health.

How can I use the California mental health hotline and other resources?

There are several California mental health hotlines and other resources, including the 988 Suicide and Crisis Prevention Lifeline, available 24/7 by calling or texting 988. Other major helplines include CalHope (available 24/7 by calling 833-317-4673), which is a warmline for accessing peer counselors, and BeWellLine, a peer support counseling service available through online chat or by calling 866-349-6597.

If you are experiencing mental health distress, financial issues, homelessness, bullying, domestic violence, or any issue, great or small, BeWellLine is available 24/7 to help you through any situation. Our peer support counselors can provide advice, coping skills, or just a listening ear. We are also able to refer you to many resources and programs available through MHSA or refer you to higher levels of care via the Mindfuli app. Please reach out to us to chat online with a counselor or call our crisis support services helpline at 866-349-0854. All calls and chats are confidential and private.

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