Survey: US faces a mental health crisis, especially those 18 through 29 years old

A mental health crisis besets young adults in the U.S. to such an extent that more than a third (35%) of individuals ages 18 through 29 years old said that they could not work nor engage in other activities of daily living, according to a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) and CNN.

Meanwhile, 90% of all Americans believe that the country faces a mental health crisis.

Age 30 seems to be the cutoff separating severe crisis caused by mental health problems, and conditions not as dire. For instance, 34% of those 18 through 29 consider their mental health to be “only fair” or “poor”; 19% of those 30 and over feel that way. Fifty-two percent of young adults said that they’d always or often felt anxious in the last year, while 28% of older adults felt that way.

A third of young adults felt depressed (33%) or lonely (32%) in the last year; for older adults it was 18% for both depressed and lonely. 

While COVID-19 was not the focus of the survey, its impact is felt and the detrimental effect the pandemic has had on mental health has been widely and often reported. The pandemic casts a long shadow over the subject matter, said Ashley Kirzinger, Ph.D., KFF’s director of survey methodology and one of the coauthors of the survey.

She told Fierce Healthcare that “the pandemic’s impact on mental health was one of the reasons we wanted to do this deep dive on the subject. But for many Americans, the pandemic is now mostly in the background and so people are having to balance going back to work, getting their kids back in school while facing many of the mental health issues that arose during the past two years and the experiences and worries from the past two years are definitely influencing how people responded to the survey.”

COVID-19 still concerns parents, 47% of whom say that the pandemic negatively affected their child’s mental health. Across racial and ethnic groups, at least four in 10 parents said that. Almost one in five parents (17%) said that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact.

And though the federal government created a national three-digit suicide prevention hotline—988—56% of those surveyed said that they’d not heard anything about it, while 21% said that they’ve heard a little bit about it. “Only about one in four adults say they have heard either ‘a lot’ (7%) or ‘some’ (16%) about the new 988 mental health hotline that will connect people with mental health services,” states the press release.

The survey was conducted from July 28 to Aug. 9, 2022, among 2,004 adults ages 18 and older, and it included 398 parents. Interviews were conducted by phone or online, and the survey has a sampling error of plus or minus 3%.

Families are hurting, the survey reveals. Fifty-one percent of all adults nationwide say that their families have experienced a severe mental health crisis. One in four respondents said that a family member received in-person treatment because they posed a threat to themselves or others (28%). Twenty-six percent said that a family member engaged in cutting or other forms of self-harm.

“Significant shares also report that a family member had a drug overdose that required an emergency room visit or hospitalization (21%); experienced homelessness due to mental health problems (16%); died by suicide (16%); or ran away from home due to mental health problems (14%),” the study states. “About one in ten (8%) say that a family member had a severe eating disorder that required hospitalization or in-person treatment.”

Economic uncertainty fuels mental health concerns.

“Six in ten (61%) of those living in households with incomes of $40,000 or less say their personal finances are a major source of stress,” the survey states. “This group also reports that the cost of mental health care services may be prohibitive to seeking care with four in ten (39%) saying people like them are not able to get the mental health services they need and a large majority of those with lower incomes saying the cost of mental health care is a ‘big problem’ in the United States.”

The study includes quotes from some of those surveyed. For instance, here are some of the answers to the question: “What is the main reason why you don’t feel comfortable talking to your relatives and friends about your mental health?”

  • “I feel like my parents would try to make the problem about them and make me feel bad for telling them how I feel. I think my friends would either laugh it off or give nothing but empty platitudes and worthless advice.” – 20-year-old White man in Florida
  • “Because it’s not considered manly. I’ve gotten funny looks and debilitating jokes when expressing my concerns in the past.” – 41-year-old Hispanic man in Texas
  • “I don’t want to worry my friends or family with my own personal struggles.” – 37-year-old White man in Texas
  • “I am concerned my wife would choose to not understand my feelings, and may even use what I tell her against me with others.” – 59-year-old Hispanic man in California

And here are some of the answers to the question: “Why do you think it would hurt to call 911 if you or a loved one was having a mental health crisis?”

  • “Law enforcement are not trained to properly deal with mental health.” – 27-year-old Black man in Georgia
  • “Sometimes emergency responders are not trained how to handle these crisis situations and can upset or worsen the problem / situations.” – 64-year-old White woman in South Carolina
  • “Because most first responders don’t know how or what to do to treat mental health and they only make the problem worse.” – 66-year-old Black man in Michigan
  • “They are not trained well enough to take care of mental health crises. My brother was schizophrenic and we called the police and he was killed by the police because they did not know that he was going through a mental health crisis.” – 39-year-old White man in Colorado
  • “Resistance and shame, plus if the person in need was in the position as the main financial provider for the family and lost the ability to earn a living for the family, due to a need for temporary hospitalization, that would devastate the family.” – 51-year-old White man in Connecticut