Snapshot of America’s Mental Health

Mental health has been a growing issue in America for decades. However, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health has become an even more serious issue for Americans in every age group, as evidenced by many mental health statistics. 

In 2020, 21 percent (more than one in five or nearly 53 million people) of adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness. Of those, 5.6 percent experienced “serious” mental illness, which equals about one in 20 adults or 14.2 million people. Among U.S. children between the ages of six and 17, 7.7 million or 16.5 percent experienced mental health disorders. Furthermore, 6.7 percent of adults (or 17 million people) had a co-occurring substance use problem mental health issue in 2020. 


Common Mental Health Conditions

The most common mental health conditions in adults include:

  • Major Depressive Episode: 8.4 percent or 21 million people
  • Schizophrenia: <1 percent or an estimated 1.5 million people
  • Bipolar Disorder: 2.8 percent or an estimated 7 million people
  • Anxiety Disorders: 19.1 percent or an estimated 48 million people
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): 3.6 percent or an estimated 9 million people
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): 1.2 percent or an estimated 3 million people
  • Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): 1.4 percent or an estimated 3.5 million people

Who is Receiving Mental Health Treatment in the U.S.?

Mental illness is a treatable condition. Many Americans sought such treatment in 2020:

  • 46.2 percent of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment 
  • 64.5 percent of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment 
  • 50.6 percent of U.S. youth aged 6-17 with a mental health disorder received treatment (in 2016 based on the most recent figures available)  

Sadly, the average time between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years.


Barriers to Mental Illness Treatment

There are many reasons why those with mental illness don’t seek the treatment they need. A significant portion (nearly 45 percent in one study) don’t believe they need treatment. Another 73 percent reported they wanted to handle their mental illness independently. About 42 percent initiate treatment and then drop out for various other reasons.

Other barriers to getting treatment for mental illness in America include:

  • Financial barriers: Copays, deductibles, medication costs can all add up quickly. The sad reality is that many Americans simply don’t have the financial resources to afford their own mental health treatment. 
  • Lack of mental health professionals: According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, 89.3 million Americans live in federally-designated mental health professional shortage areas, while only 55.3 million Americans live in similarly-designated primary-care shortage areas.
  • Lack of mental health awareness and education: Symptoms of mental illness can be dismissed as personality or attitude problems, worrying too much, or laziness. If someone doesn’t know something is wrong or is being told by someone else that what they are experiencing is a normal problem, they aren’t likely to seek treatment. 
  • The social stigma of mental health: The person’s own beliefs about their mental health or those of their family, friends, or even professionals can play a role in preventing them from getting the help they need. 
  • Racial barriers: Significant disparities exist in mental healthcare access among different racial and ethnic groups. One study found that white individuals are the only racial group in which a majority of people with severe mental or emotional anguish get treatment. More than half of individuals facing severe mental illness who are Black, Hispanic, or Asian don’t receive treatment.

The Collateral Damage of Mental Illness

Mental illness impacts more than an individual’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, actions, and outlook on life. Its effects are far-reaching. Consider that:

  • Those diagnosed with depression have a 40 percent higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than those who aren’t
  • 32.1 percent or 17 million American adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2020 
  • Unemployment rates are higher among adults in America who have a mental illness— 6.4 percent compared to those who don’t have a mental illness at 5.1 percent
  • High school students with significant symptoms of depression are more than twice as likely to drop out compared to their mentally healthy peers
  • Students aged 6-17 with mental, emotional, or behavioral concerns are 3x more likely to need to repeat a grade.
  • Mental illness or substance use disorders are involved in 1 out of every 8 or an estimated 12 million adult emergency department visits 
  • 20.8 percent of individuals experiencing homelessness in the U.S. have a serious mental health condition
  • Severe mental illness causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year in the U.S. alone
  • Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide

While many of these mental health statistics are hard to swallow, accepting them and working to understand them are the first steps in improving them. 


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