Mental Healthcare Needs Are Increasing

June 30, 2019

A study finds that more and more Americans are facing significant mental health issues.

As healthcare places greater emphasis on mental health needs-especially as there is a greater focus on social determinants of health (SDoH)-research is showing that mental health needs are on the rise.

PRC, a healthcare research organization, polled Americans on their mental health needs and how those needs have or have not been met. PRC has been performing community health needs assessments for over 25 years, and their research shows that mental health needs are increasing.

In the survey, 31.4% of respondents described a time of two or more years when they felt sad or depressed most days (symptoms of chronic depression)-a big increase from the 1995 figure of 22.1%. Among those living under the federal poverty level, 50.5% reported the symptoms.

Overall, 21.6% of Americans have diagnosed with some sort of depressive disorder like depression, major depression, or dysthymia.

The study also found that stress levels are increasing. In 2005, the first year PRC measured stress, 8.5% of Americans rated their average day as extremely or very stressful. In 2019, that figure is 13.4%. Those unable to work, homemakers, and self-employed respondents had the highest levels of daily stress.

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Other reasons cited for stress included worries over payments, being a victim of violent crime, difficulty accessing healthcare, difficulty obtaining fresh produce, and food insecurity.

As those feelings of stress and depression have risen, however, so has the number of people seeking help for mental healthcare. Among all respondents, 30.8% have seen a mental health professional for a problem. This figure was highest for non-Hispanic white adults (34.8%) and for younger people (37.5% for people under 40 compared to 20.7% for people over 65).

People who sought help generally had fair/poor self-ratings of overall mental health, were more likely to have a specific source of ongoing medical care and/or government-assisted healthcare coverage.

Overall, 6.8% of respondents did not have access to mental healthcare when they needed it in the past year. For those with a history of mental health problems, this number increased to 16 to 21%. The most common reasons given for a lack of access were related to cost or insurance issues.

“Mental health is a major problem in nearly every community and is an often-underserved need. Many communities do not have adequate psychiatrists, counselors, inpatient facilities, etc. to support the need in the community. This becomes increasingly clear as youth suicide and school violence demonstrate gaps in mental healthcare for adolescents,” Jana Distefano, MPH, Director of Community Health at PRC, said in a release.

Bruce Lockwood, vice president of Community Health, PRC, tells Managed Healthcare Executive that the study is important for healthcare executives because it shows the unmet need for mental health services. “As ER utilization rates continue to increase,” Lockwood says, “studies suggest that mental health and substance abuse make up a growing share of reasons for these visits. Also, many frequent ED users have a mental health diagnosis and incur higher medical costs over time.”