An overwhelming majority of people in the United States believe the country is experiencing a mental health crisis, according to a new CNN poll in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Nine in 10 adults said they believe there is a mental health crisis in the U.S. today. Asked to rate the seriousness of six specific mental health issues, Americans ranked the opioid epidemic near the top, with more than two-thirds of people calling it a crisis rather than just a problem. More than half identify mental health problems 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—2 1/2 years after the Covid-19 pandemic and amid ongoing public health threats, including racism and gun violence.
The widespread concern is well-founded, rooted in both personal experience and national trends.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated many 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 show drug overdose deaths hit record highs in 2021, and suicide rates are back near a record high after two years of decline. And in 2020, mental health-related emergency room visits jumped 31% among adolescents ages 12 to 17.
According to the CNN and KFF survey, about half of adults say they have experienced a severe mental health crisis in their family, including personally treating family members who were a threat to themselves or others, or family members who have engaged in self-monitoring harmful behaviors.
More than 1 in 5 adults describe their own mental health as only “fair” or “poor,” including extremely high shares of adults under the age of 30, adults who identify as LGBT, and those with annual incomes below $40,000. A third of all adults say they always or often felt anxious in the past year, including more than half of LGBT adults and those under 30. About 1 in 5 adults say they have often or always been depressed or lonely in the past year, too.
The main 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 as major sources of stress.
About 1 in 5 adults received mental health services in the past year, according to the new study. Earlier data released by the CDC supports that finding and shows that mental health treatment has become more common over the course of the pandemic: Nearly 22% of adults received mental health treatment in 2021, up from about 19% in 2019
“Perhaps one of the only benefits of the pandemic and the change our country is going through is an increase in our willingness to acknowledge and talk about when we may be struggling or need support,” said Sarah Brummett, director of the Executive Committee of the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention Action.
“People are more willing to roll up their sleeves and talk about it and support people. And I think that’s progress.”
Despite increased willingness and commonly shared societal stressors, most adults with only fair or poor mental health said they did not feel comfortable talking to loved ones about it – some to preserve privacy and others, to avoid the shame and stigma associated with mental health problems.
But an overwhelming majority — more than 4 in 5 — of those surveyed said that individuals and families should play a major role in addressing mental health issues in the U.S., equal to the share that said the same for health care providers.
Experts say there is an opportunity to expand perceptions of how mental health is part of overall physical health and how to respond to mental health crises.
“Not everyone is a cardiologist, but a lot of people are trained in CPR,” said Justin Baker, a psychologist and assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “If we rely on the power of mental health alone, we’ll keep going in circles and never get anywhere. I think we see this as all our problems.
Nevertheless, the groups most likely to say they need mental health care in the US are also less likely to say they can get it.
Nearly 6 in 10 adults who say their mental health is good or poor say they haven’t been able to get the care they need, as do about half of adults under 30 and LGBT adults.
According to CNN and KFF’s survey of those left without help, the most commonly cited reasons were being too busy or unable to take time off from work, unable to afford the costs, and being afraid or embarrassed to seek care.
In his first State of the Union address, President Joe Biden outlined a multifaceted strategy to address the nation’s mental health crisis, including goals to integrate mental health into primary care, investing in the workforce and new approaches to programs that deliver care.
“Let’s get all Americans the mental health services they need, more people to turn to for help, and full equality between physical and mental health care,” he said in his March address.
According to the survey, most Americans see these issues as significant problems. A majority, 55%, say it’s a big problem that there aren’t enough mental health care providers, about three-quarters say insurers not covering mental health the way they do is a big problem, and 80% say the same about the cost of mental health care.
Through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden administration is investing $5 billion in mental health and substance use programs through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with billions more proposed in future budgets.
One significant change came this summer when the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline switched to a three-digit dialing code: 988. Early data suggests success, with calls jumping 45 percent in the first month compared to the same time last year.
But according to the new study, there is more work to be done.
A majority of adults (85%) say they are at least somewhat likely to call the hotline if they or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis — and it’s a good alternative to 911, which about a quarter of adults especially Black and LGBT adults say they would do more harm than good in a mental health crisis situation.
It also has the potential to help Hispanics and the uninsured, who are more likely than average to say they don’t know who to call if they have a mental health crisis and don’t know where to find services.
Yet more than half of adults in the new poll say they have heard “nothing at all” about the new 988 hotline.
“This can be a preventable public health problem, and we all have a role to play,” Brummett said.
Fieldwork for the CNN/KFF Mental Health Survey was conducted by SSRS July 28 through August 9 among a random national sample of 2,004 adults. The survey included 1,603 adults who were surveyed online after being recruited using probability-based methods and 401 adults who were selected by random digit dialing and reached on landlines or mobile phones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.