By Deidre McPhillips, CNN
With 90% of Americans saying the US faces a mental health crisis, broad majorities say that individuals and families or health care providers should play a major role in addressing mental health problems, outpacing the share who see a role for government, employers, schools or religious organizations
An overwhelming majority of people in the United States think the country is experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a new survey from CNN in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Nine out of 10 adults said they believed that there’s a mental health crisis in the US today. Asked to rate the severity of six specific mental health concerns, Americans put the opioid epidemic near the top, with more than two-thirds of people identifying it as a crisis rather than merely a problem. More than half identified mental health issues among children and teenagers as a crisis, as well as severe mental illness in adults.
The survey captured the perceptions of a nationally representative sample of about 2,000 adults over the summer – 2½ years into the Covid-19 pandemic and amid ongoing public health threats including racism and gun violence.
The broad concern is well-founded, rooted in both personal experience and national trends.
“The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated numerous social stressors that we know can increase the risk of both substance use and mental illness,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that drug overdose deaths reached record levels in 2021 and suicide rates were back near a record high after two years of decline. And in 2020, mental health-related visits to emergency rooms jumped 31% among adolescents ages 12 to 17.
According to the CNN and KFF poll, about half of adults say they have had a severe mental health crisis in their family, including in-person treatment for family members who were a threat to themselves or others, or family members who engaged in self-harming behaviors.
More than 1 in 5 adults describe their own mental health as only “fair” or “poor,” including extra-large shares of adults under the age of 30, adults who identify as LGBT and those with an annual income of less than $40,000. A third of all adults said they felt anxious always or often over the course of the past year, including more than half of LGBT adults and those under 30. About 1 in 5 adults said they were often or always depressed or lonely over the past year, too.
Major sources of stress for a third or more of adults include personal finances and current and political events. About 1 in 4 adults also identified personal relationships and work, respectively, as major sources of stress.
According to the new survey, about 1 in 5 adults received mental health services in the past year. Earlier data published by the CDC supports that finding and shows that mental health treatment became more common over the course of the pandemic: Nearly 22% of adults got mental health treatment in 2021, up from about 19% in 2019.
“Perhaps one of the only benefits of the pandemic and the shift that our country has been going through is the increase in our willingness to acknowledge and talk about when we might be struggling or in need of support,” said Sarah Brummett, director of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention’s executive committee.
“People are more willing to roll up their sleeves and talk about it and support folks. And I think that’s progress.”
Despite increased willingness and commonly shared stressors among the public, most adults who have only fair or poor mental health said they don’t feel comfortable talking to loved ones about it – some to maintain privacy and some to avoid the shame and stigma attached to mental health issues.
But the vast majority – more than 4 out of 5 – of those surveyed say individuals and families should play a major role in addressing mental health problems in the US, equal to the share who say the same of health care providers.
Experts say there is an opportunity to broaden perceptions about how mental health is part of overall physical health and how to respond to mental health crises.