The Mental Health Issue Affecting Millions of Americans

Data shows this problem is on the rise.

More than 8.3 million American adults suffer from serious psychological distress, according to new research from New York University Langone Medical Center. That means a higher percentage of U.S. adults are dealing with this mental health issue now than in the past.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines serious psychological distress as a combination of “feelings of sadness, worthlessness and restlessness” profound enough to affect your physical health. In addition to rising distress, the new findings (published online in the journal Psychiatric Services) show that the country’s “ability to meet the growing demand for mental health services is diminishing,” the study’s press release explains.

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Researchers analyzed data from more than 200,000 Americans between 18 and 64 years old using self-reported surveys, a process that spanned nine years. They found that 3.4 percent of participants met the criteria for serious psychological distress — previous estimates were less than 3 percent, according to the researchers. They also report that in 2014, fewer people had health insurance coverage that allowed them to visit psychiatrists or counselors and were less able to pay for medications they needed than in 2006.

“Based on our data, we estimate that millions of Americans have a level of emotional functioning that leads to lower quality of life and life expectancy,” lead study investigator Judith Weissman, PhD, JD, and research manager in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone, says in the press release. “Our study may also help explain why the U.S. suicide rate is up to 43,000 people each year.”

Weissman notes that the study can’t explain the erosion of mental health and related services, but says it could be caused by “shortages in professional help, increased costs of care not covered by insurance, the great recession, and other reasons worthy of further investigation.”

At a time when more people than ever are reporting mental health issues (just last month, the World Health Organization announced that depression is the leading cause of poor health worldwide, with more than 300 million people currently suffering from it) it’s crucial that we work towards solutions on a national and global level. This data reminds us how important it is to continue talking about mental health so we can better support people in need and those suffering can seek help without feeling stigmatized.

Read the study press release here.