12 Takeaways from a Revealing New Mental Health Survey

In a recent post, we reviewed the findings from the Harris Poll’s online survey of 2,020 adults regarding their attitudes about suicide. Now, let’s cover the results from the same survey about attitudes and experiences related to mental health issues and mental health treatment.

The survey findings were eye-opening and provide several key takeaways. Let’s review 12 of these and I’ll give each of them my personal rating of either “No surprise,” “Somewhat surprising” or “Wow, that’s surprising!”

1) Almost two-thirds (65%) had seen a primary care doctor in the past year, but only 12% had seen a mental health professional. This is a well-established pattern that many more adults seek treatment for physical health issues than for mental health concerns. Rating: No surprise.

2) About 9 in 10 (89%) believe mental health and physical health are equally important to their overall health. Even more (92%) acknowledge that mental health services are fundamental to overall health and should be a part of basic health care plans. Given the long-standing stigma and discrimination that has accompanied having a mental illness, this highly positive feedback about the importance of mental health and appropriate services is very encouraging. Rating: Wow, that’s surprising!

3) Slightly over half (56%) report that physical health is treated as more important than mental health. Only 28% feel that mental and physical health are treated equally. In contrast to the belief in #2 that mental and physical health are equally important, this finding shows how the two conditions are treated in actual practice, and the inequity is still a significant one. Rating: No surprise.

4) 43% believe mental health treatment is something most people can’t afford. Similarly, 31% feel mental health care isn’t accessible for most people and 30% say people don’t know where to find it. Lack of affordability and difficulty accessing mental health treatment are well known barriers to care. Rating: No surprise.

5) 38% believe that seeing a mental health professional is a sign of strength; young adults (ages 18-34) are more likely to feel this way compared to those over age 35. Nearly half (47%) think they can tell when someone has a mental health condition. These findings suggest that over one-third of the sample has a positive opinion about seeking mental health treatment and almost half have been aware of the mental health issues of those around them. Rating: Somewhat surprising.

6) One-third of adults have ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition. The most common diagnoses are depression (21%) and anxiety/panic disorder (20%). Many previous studies have suggested about one in four adults have a mental health diagnosis, in contrast to this finding of one in three. Rating: Somewhat surprising.

7) Nearly half (47%) say they have considered they may have had a mental health condition at some point in their life. Of these, about one-third (31%) thought they had anxiety/panic disorder (31%), and 28% felt they may have had depression. For almost half to say they may have experienced mental health issues would be a much higher number than suggested in several previous studies. Rating: Wow, that’s surprising!

8) Women (37%) are significantly more likely than men (28%) to disclose they have ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and to have self-diagnosed with a mental health condition (51% vs. 43%). Women are more likely to report anxiety and depression, but men are more likely to disclose substance abuse issues. Women have traditionally been more open than men about discussing personal mental health issues. Rating: No surprise.

9) Many have missed work in the past year because they were too anxious (14%) or too depressed (16%) to go to work. Mental health issues commonly affect work performance and job attendance. Rating: No surprise.

10) Nearly two in five (38%) have ever received treatment for a mental health condition. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy” (29%) is most commonly used, followed by prescription medication (25%). Those under the age of 55 are more likely to have received treatment than those 55 or older. In contrast to these findings, rates of medication use often exceed those of psychotherapy. Rating: Somewhat surprising.

11) 45% of those who participated in psychotherapy found it ‘very helpful,’ and over one-third (37%) found it ‘somewhat helpful.’ Of those who received treatment via peer-support groups, 41% found it ‘very helpful,’ while 37% found it ‘somewhat helpful.’ Psychotherapy and peer support groups are both well-established and effective forms of treatment. Rating: No surprise.

12) For those who have ever used prescription medication to treat a mental health condition, two in five (41%) found it ‘very helpful,’ while one-third (34%) found it ‘somewhat helpful.’ Medications are certainly effective in treating many different types of mental health issues. Rating: No surprise.

So the final tally is 7 “No surprise,” 3 “Somewhat surprising,” and 2 “Wow, that’s surprising!” Perhaps most encouraging is the overwhelming support for the importance of mental health and obtaining appropriate treatment. Let’s hope this indication of more positive attitudes continues to grow as we keep fighting the stigma and discrimination which still surrounds mental illnesses and seeking mental health care.

Here’s a question: Have your attitudes toward mental illness and obtaining mental health treatment changed, and if so, how? Please leave a comment. Also please consider subscribing to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!

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