Urgency for Action: The Mental Health Crisis in the U.S.
Author: Deanna Wilken
May 17, 2022
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed every May in the United States since 1949. Campaigns by mental health organizations increase substantially during this month, all aimed at raising awareness of mental illness and advocating for the need to support those who are affected. However, in a country lacking affordable healthcare, millions are left without access to mental health services, many of whom hide their struggles due to the negative stigma and misconceptions about mental illness perpetuated in American media.
There are over 200 types of mental illness and more than 50% of the population in the U.S. will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives. In 2020, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported 52.9 million people affected by a mental illness in the U.S., representing 1 in 5 adults. An additional 7.7 million children ages 6-17 were reported to have a mental illness. Less than half of these individuals received mental health services.
In another 2020 report by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S., with nearly 46,000 deaths and 1.2 million suicide attempts. The numbers may be higher as there is no complete count of suicide attempts in the U.S.; the CDC must rely on data from hospitals and self-reported surveys.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected Americans further. Early into the pandemic in late-June 2020, 40% of adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. A study published by the CDC in March 2021 found that symptoms of anxiety and depression among adults increased during August 2020-February 2021 by roughly 6%. Further, a recent study by the CDC in April 2022 showed 37% of high school students struggled with mental health with persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
In March 2022, President Biden announced a strategy to address the nation’s mental health crisis, proposing funding for mental health care programs and professionals, launching a national crisis response line, expanding access to mental health services, and investing in mental health research, among other things. It remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will follow through with this strategy or whether it will be effective in addressing the mental health challenges in the country.
The referenced statistics are staggering and elicit a sense of urgency for immediate change. Proposed modifications to mental health services access by the federal government and increased educational campaigns are promising, yet the systemic disparities in the American healthcare system affect people right now, and the mental health crisis is time sensitive.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness and need information or support, please use these available resources. If you have a life-threatening emergency, call 911 immediately.