Mental Health in the United States: Dynamics, Statistics and Challenges

Mental Health in the United States


Executive Summary

This report attempts to launch an inquiry into the mental health dynamics, statistics and challenges in the United States. Given that mental health is a broad topic, this report maintain its sphere of analysis on anxiety and stress, and puts forward statistical data taken from multiple governmental and independent scientific sources, and peer-reviewed journals. The report sheds light on the need for policymaking, and evaluates the existing US federal body’s contributions and research towards combatting stress amongst adults. This report concludes that there is need for further policy initiatives that help fight off stress and anxiety and eliminate their underlying causes, alongside providing an innovative and affordable mental health approach towards combatting mental illnesses.



Despite the countless medical innovations and healthcare advancements, mental health continues to pose a massive challenge for the American healthcare system. There is a greater need to enhance the access towards mental health treatment and substance use disorders, alongside combatting the causes that give birth to stress and anxiety disorders. Statistics published by the National Institute of Mental Health reveals that in 2017, over 47 million Americans were fighting against a mental ailment, of which 11 million were diagnosed with a severe mental disorder. Millions of cases of substance use disorders and mental illnesses go undiagnosed and unreported. An aggressive system that identifies, treats and prevents mental health ailments can save countless lives and improve living standards across the country.

It is instrumental for the US to enforce federal parity law and enhance healthcare facilities to ensure that mental ailments are treated in the same manner as physical illnesses. There is need for legislations that enhance healthcare facilities for those suffering from mental health problems, alongside holding insurance companies accountable for mental health issues. Dynamic and multifaceted approaches, such as the Collaborative Care Model, can provide improved and integrated healthcare, alongside making mental health treatments more affordable and accessible for patients. The United States is witnessing a horrid increase in suicide rates, and this epidemic can be averted and combatted by paying more attention towards the early warning signs of suicidal behavior, stress and anxiety, and undertaking effective preventive measures and early interventions. Naturally, these measures would require the United States to allocate more funding for public mental health facilities and programs, alongside prioritizing research to enhance the strategies and approaches for early identification, prevention and intervention for mental illnesses. The US can combat the scourge of heightened suicide rates, increased stress and anxiety disorder, depression and other mental health illnesses by investing substantial funds towards research on mental health treatments and prevention strategies, enhancing training, and ensuring ease of availability of treatments, medications and intervention strategies. (NIMH, 2019)

Untreated cases of stress and anxiety disorders have led to massive increases in suicide rates, lack of productivity and financial costs, alongside the burden on the healthcare system. In 2016, deaths by suicide soared to 45,000, while the period between 1996 and 2016 witnessed a 58% increased in suicide rates across 24 states. The US economy is burdened by the loss of over $200 billion each year due to anxiety and depression. Depression is the leading cause behind absenteeism and lost workdays as opposed to diabetes, pains, asthma or other physical illnesses. It is important to understand the mental and physical wellbeing are linked with other another.  (American Psychiatric Association, 2019)

In this paper, we will attempt to understand the challenge posed by mental health issues to the healthcare system and society in the United States. We will attempt to understand the challenges created by anxiety and stress in the workforce and households, and examine the policies and measures that can be taken by the US government to detect, prevent and treat such cases. We will discuss various interventions, and attempt to understand the impact of recreation to reduce workplace anxiety, and the advocation of healthy habits, such as quality sleep, in reducing stress and stress-related complications. First, we will attempt to understand the statistics and data on anxiety and stress across the United States, and then, we will examine the public health policies and initiatives to combat stress and anxiety amongst adults. Finally, we will put forward the interventions that have been designed, and offer insightful recommendations that can prove instrumental in combatting stress, anxiety and mental illnesses.


Anxiety & Stress in the US

Anxiety and depression are the most prevalent mental health conditions observed in the US healthcare setting. Research reveals that around 16% of the US population fits the criteria for being diagnosed with severe depression throughout their lifetime, and women are 1.7 times more vulnerable to develop depressive disorders as compared to men. More than 30 million US citizens have a lifetime history of struggling with anxiety and stress, and anxiety disorders burden the US economy with an estimated cost of $42 billion annually. Anxiety disorders are extremely prevalent across the US, and the most common types include society anxiety disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder. More recent research reveals that around 34% of the US adults, between the ages 18 and 64, are at risk for developing an anxiety disorder at least once during their lifetime. Statistics reveal that stress and anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in adolescents across the US, and around 32% of the adolescents aged 13 to 17 are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at least once in their lifetime. It is important to note that since adolescents have a high rate of anxiety prevalence which is similar to that of prevalence rates in adults, it is expected that anxiety prevalence will continue to increase as the adolescents age towards adulthood. As we examine the prevalence of anxiety and stress amongst millennials and students, we understand the need to combat anxiety and stress in schools, colleges, institutions and workplaces. Data obtained from 147 counseling centers run by colleges and universities across the US, reveals that anxiety and depression are the two most common mental health illnesses amongst students during the last 4 years. Since 2009, anxiety has dominated the prevalence trends and surpassing the diagnosis rates of depression. This overwhelming increase in anxiety rates amongst millennials and young adults is cause for grave alarm. Research reveals that lack of mental wellbeing and increased stress and anxiety eventually leads to unemployment, unproductivity, financial disadvantages, loss of income, debt, lack of educational attainment, and even homelessness. Economic and financial stressors are one of the driving causes of anxiety and stress disorders, followed by sociopolitical influences, social media, technology and more. (Scheffler et al., 2018)


US Policies to Combat Stress

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), a major federal agency of the United States, has made great strides in combatting and reducing stress levels amongst adults and in the workplace. It aims to promote greater workplace protection for the physical and mental wellbeing of the US workforce by working towards controlling and eliminating all hazards and stressors. The NIOSH model for combatting stress in the workforce focuses on stressful job conditions that can lead towards illnesses or injuries, and the researchers at the NIOSH carry investigations on working conditions and the resulting stress levels and mental health outcomes. Based on its research on workplace stress, NIOSH focuses on the need for stress management to promote mental wellbeing and undertake preventive measures. The NIOSH and US federal policy on stress amongst adults encourages employers to adopt an inclusive and appreciative management styles that allows employees control in the decision-making process. (O’Keefe et al., 2014)

There is greater need for the United States to introduce a holistic and multifaceted federal policy on combatting stress and anxiety amongst adults. States across the country must also introduce their own well-defined policies and strategies to combat stress and anxiety to reduce the burden on the healthcare system and the economy. Research reveals that in recent years, mass shootings, healthcare expenses and political tensions have emerged as the major cause for increased stress levels amongst American adults. Statistics reveal that 62% adults experience stress due to the ongoing political climate under US President Donald Trump. While 69%, around seven in 10 adults, reveal that the healthcare expenses are a significant source of stress for them, and 71% revealed that mass shootings are a significant source of stress. There is a great need for policies that tackle and combat the underlying issues and stressors, and work towards allowing an innovative and affordable mental health policy to combat stress and anxiety. (American Psychological Association, 2019)


Interventions: Recreation & Advocation for Lifestyle Changes

Workplace health promotion programs that encourage recreation as a means to combat stress have proven immensely successful in staging mental and physical health interventions. Workplaces can take measures to create a holistic health culture by using its existing communication structures and social support networks. Employers can incentivize their employees to prioritize and reinforce mindfulness and healthy behaviors, and they can track the stress levels and mental wellbeing of their employees using data and performance evaluation measures. Employers can make a difference by providing mental health assessment tools to their workforce, and allowing them free or affordable clinical examinations with qualified mental health professional to investigate their stress levels or other symptoms. Mental health counselling, discounted medications, subsidized life coaching and counselling, or self-healing programs can also make a dynamic impact on reducing stress and anxiety amongst adults. Conducting workshops on depression, stress and anxiety management techniques, breathing exercises, meditation, yoga and mindfulness can help employees develop stronger mechanisms to curb their stress and anxiety, and enhance their motivation and focus. Organizations can also prioritize the employees’ need for relaxation and recreation, and they can maintain relaxation or unwinding spaces, alongside including recreational activities, physical sports, vacations and group activities to curb stress and promote mental wellbeing and relaxation. (CDC, 2018)


Research reveals that recreation and physical activity, particularly outdoor recreation and natural stimulation allows individuals to combat stress and feel lighter and emotionally balanced. Lifestyle changes, such as improved sleep quality, relaxation techniques, outdoor recreation, physical exertion, and healthy diets can help fight off stress and enhance mood and concentration levels. Many studies have highlighted that artificial stimulation and time spent in workplaces, traffic and other human environments can lead to exhaustion, and loss of physical and mental wellbeing. Making tough and challenging decisions, tackling domestic and work responsibilities, and even the simple act of commuting, can expose us to countless stressors that lead to fatigue, mental exhaustion and irritability. In such a situation, natural settings and outdoor recreation, engaging with animals or hiking and walking can help us destress our minds and feel at peace.  (Kuo and Sullivan, 2001)


Research reveals that leisure and recreational activities can help employees fight off occupational stress without reducing their workload or responsibilities. Participating in recreation and leisure activities allows adolescents and adults effectively manage their stress levels and combat against anxiety disorders. (Chang, 2005)


Therapeutic lifestyle changes can offer wide-ranging and lasting advantages for people struggling against stress, anxiety and depression. They are effective and affordable, for instance, relaxation, and deep sleep for stress and mental fatigue, exercise or yoga for depression, and consuming more fish oil to prevent the risk of psychosis. In fact, these little lifestyle changes are just as effective as psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy. Lifestyle changes must be advocated through governmental initiatives, and the federal and state government, alongside town and neighborhood community, must take measures to advocate healthy and therapeutic lifestyle changes. For instance, residents, students, and employees can be encouraged to improve their lifestyles to enhance their stress management strategies and spread awareness to detect and identify the signs of mental health illnesses that stem from stress, anxiety and depression. Therapists and counsellors can also introduce their patients to therapeutic lifestyle changes that are more accessible, easy to learn and affordable. (Walsh, 2011).



Anxiety and stress, followed by depression, are the most common mental health illnesses in the United States, and in majority of the cases, they lead towards severer mental and physical ailments, such as anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, diabetes, heart diseases and more. There is a need for a comprehensive and multifaceted US federal policy on combatting stress, reducing environmental and economic stresses, and providing an innovative and affordable approach towards detecting, diagnosing, preventing and treating mental health ailments, particularly anxiety. The existing US policies on stress in education institutes and workplaces requires further research and work to make counselling and mental health measures more accessible for American adults. Schools, universities and workplaces can develop a proactive approach towards preventing, detecting and treating mental health concerns, particularly stress by providing mental health assistance, counselling, recreation programs and advocation for improved lifestyle habits to combat stress and anxiety. Quality sleep, healthy eating and recreation activities can help an individual develop healthy coping and stress management mechanisms, and ensure that stress and anxiety does not interfere with his/her lifestyle, work productivity, and life quality. There is need for further research and policymaking endeavors to combat the scourge of stress and anxiety, which continues to heighten across the US.

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