Majority looking for change in how U.S. deals with mental health crises

New Ipsos poll, conducted on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, shows strong desire for mental health professionals to lead mental health crisis response efforts.

The author(s)

  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Annaleise Azevedo Lohr Director, US, Public Affairs
Get in touch

Washington, DC, November 15, 2021

A new Ipsos poll, conducted on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), explores Americans’ attitudes toward the current state of mental health treatment in this country. The poll finds there is a widespread desire for improvement in how this country responds to mental health crises, and broad support for a more robust crisis response system – with mental health professionals at the forefront, rather than law enforcement.

Detailed Findings

Some of the key findings of the poll include:

  • Three quarters of Americans (75%) say they are not content with the state of mental health treatment in this country. This is particularly true if they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition (84%).
  • Discontent reaches across the political aisle, although Democrats (79%) and independents (76%) are more likely to be discontent than Republicans (68%).
  • Fifty four percent of Americans say there is significant room for improvement in addressing mental health and suicide crises, which is far lower than other medical emergency responses where only 26% of Americans report significant improvement is needed at the macro level. Democrats (64%) and independents (56%) are far more likely than Republicans (42%) to feel significant improvement of mental health emergency responses is needed.
  • At the local level, 44% of Americans say that significant is improvement is needed in their local area or state, which is on par with the level of concern for violent crime emergency responses (44%), which Americans report as a top priority issue. Just 22% say other medical emergency responses need significant improvement at the local level.
  • One in three (31%) say they think about a loved one’s mental well being often, and 40% say they think about it sometimes. This compares to 25% who say they think about their own mental well being often, and 35% who think about it sometimes. Black and Hispanic Americans (32% each) are more likely than white Americans to say they think about their mental well being often (22%). All racial and ethnic groups think about their loved ones in equal proportions.
  • Four in five Americans say that when someone is having a mental health or suicide crisis, mental health professionals should be the first responders. Despite current practice, just 19% say they want police to respond.
  • Eighty percent say a mental health or psychiatric facility would be their first choice for help if they or a loved one was considering suicide or self harm, while just 1% say they should be taken into police custody or into jail.
  • Americans are almost completely unaware of the 988 emergency number. Just 1% say they are very familiar with it, and 80% report they have never heard of it.

About the Study

This Ipsos poll was conducted October 22-25, 2021, on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), using the KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a representative sample of 2,049 U.S. residents, age 18 or older. The study was conducted in English. The data were weighted to adjust for gender by age, race/ethnicity, education, Census region, metropolitan status, household income and race/ethnicity. The demographic benchmarks came from the 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) except for the metropolitan status, which is not available from the 1-year ACS data, were obtained from the 2020 March Supplement of the Current Population Survey (CPS).

  • Gender (Male, Female) by Age (18–29, 30–44, 45–59, and 60+)
  • Race/Hispanic Ethnicity (White Non-Hispanic, Black Non-Hispanic, Other or 2+ Races Non-Hispanic, Hispanic)
  • Education (Less than High School, High School, Some College, Bachelor or higher)
  • Census Region (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) by Metropolitan status (Metro, non-Metro)
  • Household Income (Under $25,000, $25,000-$49,999, $50,000-$74,999, $75,000-$99,999, $100,000-$149,999, $150,000+)

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults. The margin of error takes into account the design effect, which was 1.16 for all adults. In our reporting of the findings, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%. In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total substantially more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent.


About Ipsos

Ipsos is the world’s third largest Insights and Analytics company, present in 90 markets and employing more than 18,000 people.

Our passionately curious research professionals, analysts and scientists have built unique multi-specialist capabilities that provide true understanding and powerful insights into the actions, opinions and motivations of citizens, consumers, patients, customers or employees. We serve more than 5000 clients across the world with 75 business solutions.

Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is listed on the Euronext Paris since July 1st, 1999. The company is part of the SBF 120 and the Mid-60 index and is eligible for the Deferred Settlement Service (SRD).

ISIN code FR0000073298, Reuters ISOS.PA, Bloomberg IPS:FP

The author(s)

  • Mallory Newall Vice President, US, Public Affairs
  • Annaleise Azevedo Lohr Director, US, Public Affairs