The conditions set by the pandemic created a crisis where one was already brewing. Humans are social creatures and need to interact with other humans. The pandemic curtailed our ability to meet these basic needs. After weeks, months, and years of extreme change and isolation, mental health is now a pressing issue for many Americans.
Mental health care professionals and the system at large are stretched. Most Americans can see and feel that when reaching out for help.
This week, in anticipation of World Mental Health Day on Monday, we look at Americans’ mental health and feelings toward the health care system.
- Mental health crisis. The pandemic left an indelible mark on the American psyche. Reported levels of anxiety and depression symptoms surged during the first summer and winter with COVID, as spiking cases overwhelmed hospitals, and remain on par with where they were in April 2020. At the same time, many states are struggling with a mental health care professional shortage. Suicides by firearms in the U.S. reached a 30-year high last year, driving an overall increase in suicides. Coming out of the pandemic, this is where the country is.
- Americans are worried. Perhaps related, as the acute phase of the pandemic subsided, concern with mental health grew significantly, replacing COVID as the top health care concern in the U.S. Americans outpace global worry about mental health by 15-points. When it comes to health care issues, mental health is top of mind for people in the U.S.
- Not treated equally. Few feel that the U.S. health care system treats mental and physical health as equally important. Most Americans do feel that they are equally important, though. Among 34 countries surveyed, the U.S. is at the bottom of the list behind countries like China, Germany, and France.
- Not satisfied with health care system. That leaves most Americans unsatisfied with the mental health care system. This level of discontent has held steady from one year to the next. Decisive majorities of Americans across all political parties are unhappy with the mental health care system in the U.S.
- Bipartisan agreement? When it comes to responding to a mental health or suicide crisis, most feel that mental health professionals should be primary first responders over police officers. Despite significant partisan differences around policing, majorities of Democrats and Republicans feel that mental health professionals rather than police officers should respond to these crises.
During the pandemic, the public has experienced significant mental, emotional, and social upheaval. Now, with COVID subsiding as a top worry for Americans, many are turning their attention to mental health.
That’s leaving Americans largely unhappy with the state of mental health care in this country. Whether changes and reform will come will depend on what lawmakers and those in the health care system do. But dissatisfaction with mental health care is felt by many, bridging some of the most salient and deep divisions in American society.