Many Americans are struggling emotionally, depressed or even considering suicide, according to a recent Ipsos poll. But shockingly, those same Americans feel as though their mental health is in a good place.
Why the disconnect? Mental illness has historically been stigmatized and people may not want to admit when they have a problem. Additionally, people may minimize their daily struggles, assuming that someone has to be in “really bad shape” to need medical help. As Psychology Today reports on its blog, the stigma can be debilitating: “Such reactions are common when people are brave enough to admit they have a mental health problem, and they can often lead on to various forms of exclusion or discrimination – either within social circles or within the workplace.”
Let’s examine the numbers behind the trend. When a recent Ipsos poll asked Americans about stress, 47% said it impacts their daily life and 34% said their stress is so bad they feel like they can’t cope. When asked about depression, 26% said they had felt sad or hopeless for at least two weeks, and 12% said they had considered suicide at least once during the past year.
Moreover, 31% of Americans had experienced at least two of these problems over the past year, putting them at high risk for mental illness. This fits with overall trends, as the percentage of adults with serious psychological distress has been steadily increasing since 1999.
But ask people directly about their soundness of mind and you get a very different answer. Ninety-three percent reported that their mental health was good, very good, or excellent. And of those who experienced stress, depression and suicidal thoughts? Eighty-two percent of them still rated their mental health as good, very good or excellent.
A mental blind spot?
The group of “High Risk” Americans–those who have experienced significant stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts at least twice over the past year, yet profess good mental health–tend to be highly educated and employed Millennials aged 18 to 34. Two thirds had at least a Bachelor’s degree (66%), and 35% had a graduate degree. Moreover, from all outside appearances, they looked like they were doing ok. Most had not missed work/school (72%) or social gatherings (69%) because of their mental health and only a quarter posted anything on social media about feeling stressed or depressed. The majority (69%) were not taking medication for their issues. However, 66% had talked to someone, often family or friends, about their struggles.
This highlights a broader age difference in how Americans deal with mental health. While more Millennials (45%) were struggling with stress, depression or suicidal thoughts compared to Gen-Xers (ages 35-54, 30%) and Baby Boomers (ages 55+, 12%), they were also more willing to talk to someone if they needed help. In addition, a larger percentage of Millennials (30%) believed that mental health was more important than physical health, as compared to 17% of Gen Xers and 5% of Baby Boomers.
Millennials’ openness about their emotional health is encouraging. However, if people do not connect their everyday struggles to their well-being, they may not seek help. This makes screening for mental illness at places such as primary care clinics especially important so that people who are struggling don’t fall through the cracks.