- Mental health issues are on the rise in America across a range of demographics.
- Mental health issues often go untreated, mainly due to cost. Cultural norms and negative perceptions also prevent people from accessing treatment.
- Most Americans agree that mental health is a priority, and that mental health care should be more accessible and affordable.
America’s Mental Health Crisis
Mental health has always been an important issue, but recent events have exacerbated the emotional health challenges many Americans face. Highlights from recent research spotlight this growing crisis:
While these problems are concerning, there is also hope. Treatment has proven effective for the great majority of people who are struggling. The question is: Can they and will they access those treatments?
Barriers to Help-Seeking
The mental health care system is broken.
- Despite a growing public interest in mental health, a ViacomCBS & Well Being Trust survey found that many Americans face significant barriers to accessing mental health care — with cost being the most common obstacle.
- In another recent survey, a full 25% of respondents reported having to choose between getting mental health treatment and paying for daily necessities. Many also shared that they wouldn’t know where to go if they needed treatment for themselves or a loved one.
- Younger, millennial, and Gen Z Americans in particular reported finding it difficult to discern which online resources were legitimate, turning instead to social media platforms.
- Due in part to these barriers, only 43% of American adults with mental health conditions receive treatment. The average time between onset of these conditions and treatment is 11 years, with multiracial, Black, and Asian individuals being significantly less likely to receive treatment than their white counterparts.
The “push through it” perspective prevents people from reaching out.
- Some people handle emotional challenges by trying to “just get over it” or “push through it.” These beliefs are often based on the idea that mental health conditions are not serious and don’t affect our biological functioning enough to require intervention or treatment.
- However, this is the equivalent of telling someone with low blood sugar caused by diabetes that they should simply “tough it out,” and hope it gets better on its own.
- Other people believe that asking for help with mental health challenges is a sign of weakness, or that common care strategies such as therapy are ineffective. These beliefs can be driven by cultural norms, difficulty finding care providers who share a similar background, misconceptions about the relevance of therapy, or media depictions they’ve seen.
- The negative connotations of help-seeking mean that many people do not ask for help when they need it, which delays treatment, worsens symptoms, increases shame, and increases the risk of negative outcomes like substance misuse, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide.
Many believe that treatment is only for crisis situations.
- Some people believe mental health services are only for people who are in crisis. This may mean not getting help until a person feels like they are at risk of ending their life, hurts someone else, or becomes unable to care for themselves due to their mental health condition.
- The belief that we don’t require mental health treatment unless we meet an extreme measure of what is “sick enough” may help to explain why mental illness and substance use disorders are involved in 1 out of every 8 visits to the emergency room in the United States.
- It is critical to help people recognize the signs of deterioration in mental health so they can seek care earlier.
Stigma and self-stigma lead to discomfort with speaking up.
- Despite positive shifts in beliefs about people dealing with mental health challenges, public stigma continues to be reinforced by many factors, including media representation, family and cultural dynamics, and traditional gender roles. For example, some communities see silence as a strength, which can make it harder for people to share emotions and seek treatment. Similarly, stereotypes and expectations around conventional masculinity can make it harder for men to seek help.
- Public stigma and discrimination can lead to self-stigma, which occurs when individuals start to internalize stereotypes about themselves (“I am dangerous” or “I am a burden”). Self-stigma is what makes most people feel uncomfortable talking about mental health with family or close friends, and makes many Americans worry about being judged for seeking mental health treatment.
- In fact, studies have shown that some people think they would experience higher levels of judgment than someone else dealing with a similar mental health challenge.
New Pathways Forward
Growing interest in self-care and mental health apps are creating new opportunities to support and protect our mental health. And research shows the majority of Americans prioritize mental health and are asking for systemic change.
Self-care works and people are embracing it.
- In a recent ViacomCBS & Well Being Trust survey, 87% of respondents said that self-care practices such as meditation and mindfulness are critical to taking care of themselves and staying healthy.
- The growing popularity of these practices is supported by increasing scientific evidence showing that they are effective in maintaining and improving our mental health.
- Self-care can increase our resilience and help us weather mental health challenges.
- Because many self-care practices are also good strategies to help us cope with difficult feelings and situations, integrating self-care into our routines also creates a toolkit of coping techniques we can access when we need them.
- Popular meditation and mindfulness apps are making these experiences more accessible than ever — to a broader audience.
Technology is making treatment more accessible.
- The growing use of telemedicine and video platforms allows people to access care without being limited by what is immediately geographically accessible, which is important given that 60% of U.S. counties do not have a practicing psychiatrist and many forms of treatment are not available in all parts of the country.
- There are also apps and online tools that help track our moods, monitor medication impact and side effects, and teach coping skills that can complement a treatment plan.
There is widespread support for prioritizing mental health
- In a recent ViacomCBS & WellBeing Trust survey, Nearly 80% of respondents said their mental health was a personal priority. Almost 90% believed that policymakers should make mental health care more accessible and affordable.
- 8 out of 10 people in the U.S. believe that insurance companies should cover mental health the same way they do physical health, and that we need to expand access to resources online or via phone or text to increase accessibility.