“The data shed on bright light on what we have been reporting throughout the past year,” said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America. “The mental health needs in the United States are reaching new highs – and public officials need to make the restoration of the mental health of our nation a top priority in 2021.”
Nearly 2.5 million people took an online mental health screening in 2020, comprising the largest real-time database ever compiled from a mental health help-seeking population. This compares to the 1 million people who completed a screening in 2019.
Anxiety and Depression on the Rise
Both the number of people seeking support for anxiety, and the severity of that anxiety increased in 2020.
- More than a half million people screened exhibited anxiety in 2020, and 79 percent of those were experiencing moderate to severe anxiety. This percentage was nearly 10 percent higher during the final quarter of 2020 than it was during the same quarter in 2019.
- The number of people screened who had signs of depression also increased dramatically. More than 2,500 people a day indicated signs of depression. Nearly 85 percent of those screened – nearly 800,000 people – had moderate to severe depression. The percentage was even higher during the last quarter of 2020 – and Nov. and Dec. 2020 were the two months with the highest percentages of people with moderate to severe depression during the 24 months from Jan. 2019 through Dec. 2020.
- In addition, 89 percent of those seeking help under age 25 reported signs of moderate to severe depression. And while the percentages went down in each age group, more than 61 percent of people over the age of 65 also reported signs of moderate to severe depression.
Suicidal/Self-harm Thinking Reaches New Highs
Thoughts of suicidal or self-harm, especially among young people, was epidemic.
- Approximately 37 percent, or nearly 350,000 people, reported thoughts of suicide or self-harm on more than half the days or nearly every day of the week. This was six points higher than the percentage reporting similar thinking in 2019.
- Fifty-one percent of all youth screened for depression – a total of more than 158,000 young people age 11-17 – reported this thinking on more than half the days to nearly every day of the week.
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm was even higher among LGBTQ+ young people. Fifty-four percent of all LGBTQ+ screeners and 62 percent of all 11- to 17-year-olds experienced thoughts of suicide or self-harm on more than half the days to nearly every day of the week.
- In 2020, frequent thoughts of suicide or self-harm increased in every racial and ethnic group. Percentages were highest among people seeking help who identified as Native American (46%), mixed race (44%), or Asian/Pacific Islander (42%).
Dramatic Increase in Psychosis Symptoms
The number of people who were screened for signs of psychosis also increased dramatically. Nearly a quarter-million people seeking support took a psychosis screen in 2020 – twice as many as took one in 2019. Approximately 76 percent scored at risk for psychosis. Beginning in June the percentage of people at risk grew steadily. As a result, while the percentage at risk tracked closely with the 2019 percentages through the first few months of the year, it was six to 10 percentage points higher from Sept. through Dec. 2020 than it was in each of those months in 2019.
Loneliness, Current Events, Financial Problems, and Grief Affected Racial/Ethnic Groups Differently
Throughout the year, feelings of loneliness and isolation were cited by people seeking support as a major reason for their mental health struggles, with 71 percent citing it as a reason for their current anxiety or depression.
At year’s end, more than 30 percent were citing coronavirus as a reason. But in Dec., when it became clearer who won the U.S. presidential election, those citing current events as a reason for their anxiety or depression dropped to a nine-month low of 24 percent, nearly three points lower than before the election in Oct.
The events of 2020 had profoundly different mental health impacts on different racial and ethnic groups. Overall, from April through Dec., the reasons for present mental health concerns were as follows: 24 percent cited financial problems; 26 percent cited current events; 71 percent cited loneliness or isolation; 28 percent cited loss or grief; 53 percent cited past trauma; 42 percent cited relationship problems; and 26 percent cited coronavirus.
However, 30 percent of Black people seeking support – the highest percentage of any group – cited financial problems as a reason. In addition: 27 percent of people with mixed race seeking support cited current events. Seventy-four percent of Hispanic/Latinx help-seekers cited loneliness or isolation. Thirty-nine percent of Native American people seeking support cited loss or grief, 63 percent cited past trauma, and 44 percent cited relationship problems. And 27% of Whites and Hispanic/Latinx people seeking support cited coronavirus.
New Site with New Supports
MHA aims to analyze and understand the implications of this data to build future resources and supports for people struggling with mental health conditions. As part of our effort, we have rebuilt our website for screening and post-screening supports. New features on the site include: learning paths for individuals to learn more about mental health; a new DIY interactive tool in conjunction with the University of California, Irvine and funded by the National Institute of Mental Health; a log in feature to save screening results, articles, activities, and resources; and an improved treatment resource section that will allow users to more readily connect to care. MHA Screening can be found at mhascreening.org.
Coalition Emerges to Urge Policymakers to Act
Mental Health America is the nation’s only advocacy organization that has been dedicated throughout its century-long history to promoting and protecting the mental health of all. It was joined in 2020 by a coalition of national and state organizations that jointly developed and released in December a unified vision as a blueprint for addressing the mental health challenges of the nation. The vision is built on an equitable, antiracist and anti-bigotry framework that is at the center of MHA’s work.
In addition to capturing MHA’s mission and goals, the unified vision incorporates scores of policy interventions the coalition partners support that would integrate a full continuum of services to address our mental health crisis – prevention and early intervention, workforce development, crisis response, decriminalization, integrated health and other servicesand safety net treatment.
To see more of the data from MHA’s 2020 screening, please click here.