The Places in America Where Mental Health Rates Are Increasing the Fastest

Katherine Ellison
Katherine Ellison
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Mental health rates in the United States are rising. Today, over 50 million Americans experience a mental illness, and 4.58% of adults have reported serious thoughts of suicide, which is a troubling increase of 664,000 people since last year.

Unsurprisingly, a wide range of contributing factors is influencing this growth, most recently the impacts of COVID-19. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 55% of women and 38% of men experienced worsened mental health as a direct result of COVID-19. In addition to health-related concerns, the global pandemic forced people to remain inside, cutting them off from support networks and contributing to increased feelings of isolation and loneliness. 

Additionally, the increase in individuals who experience mental health doesn’t discriminate based on age. Mental Health America (MHA) found that 15.08% of youth had experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, which is a 1.24% increase since 2021. As the healthcare industry adapts to the rise in mental health disorders and patients requiring help, it has become necessary to examine data and determine where these rates are rising the fastest. 

In what states are mental health rates the most prevalent?

Annual data collected by Mental Health America (MHA) reveals location-specific trends in relation to mental health prevalence. Oregon is ranked at 51 for the prevalence of mental health rates in both 2014 and 2022. Essentially, this means that Oregon has continuously had the highest rates of individuals reported to be living with a mental illness. Although this is telling, it is important to remember that other factors play a role in managing mental health illnesses, including access to healthcare solutions, treatment prevalence, and clinical outcomes. 

Considering all of these factors, MHA determined that Nevada was at the very bottom of the overall ranking in both 2014 and 2022. Perhaps surprisingly, both of these states remained stable (despite performing poorly) within their rankings. Arguably of more interest is where certain states have either significantly improved or significantly worsened in their rankings. 

Graphic via mhanational.org.png

In what states are mental health rates increasing the fastest?

Within their data collection, MHA has annually identified the prevalence of mental health rates according to state. Although a wide range of factors contribute to the development or onset of mental health disorders, it is interesting to note that geographical location can play a role. 

Taking data from the MHA studies, six measures contribute to the Prevalence Ranking. These include:

  1. Adults with any Mental Illness
  2. Adults with Dependence or Abuse of Illicit Drugs or Alcohol
  3. Adults with Serious Thoughts of Suicide 
  4. Youth with At Least One Past Year Major Depressive Episode 
  5. Youth with Dependence or Abuse of Illicit Drugs or Alcohol 
  6. Youth with Severe MDE 

In an attempt to determine places in America that have experienced increasing mental health rates, we have selected the 2017 data and compared it to the data released in 2022 (which uses the same six measures). Some of the most notable findings include: 

Connecticut 

Connecticut moved from 1st place to 9th. Although Connecticut is still in the top 10 ranked states (meaning it has a lower prevalence of mental health disorders), it is nevertheless important to note that it has moved down 8 spots within 5 years.

Illinois

Illinois moved from 2nd place to 16th. Once again, considering there are 51 states, being 16th for the prevalence of mental health rates doesn’t seem too bad. Yet this is still a significant decrease over only 5 years. 

North Dakota 

North Dakota moved from 4th place to 33rd, indicating a fairly significant increase in the prevalence of mental health disorders within that state. 

Iowa

Iowa moved from 12th place to 36th, which is also a notable increase in mental health prevalence.

If you are interested in diving more deeply into state-differentiated mental health rates, there is more information here.

Whilst the presented data doesn’t explicitly denote causation (meaning that the relevant state isn’t necessarily the cause of the increase in mental health disorders), geographical location is still a factor to be aware of. 

In the future, there is hope for implementing new qualitative studies that help explain why certain states are experiencing massive increases in mental health rates and whether or not the local healthcare industries are equipped to handle it. One of the best ways to determine whether or not a certain area (whether this is a state or something more local) can manage increased mental health rates is by identifying how accessible healthcare is. Whilst this article focuses on the relationality between geographical locality and prevalence, we thought it would be useful to highlight some of the relevant access-to-care data. 

Access to Care 

As we mentioned, there are numerous factors that contribute to worsening mental health rates within the US, and one of the most significant is accessibility to adequate healthcare. MHA reported that more than half of the adults living with a mental illness do not receive treatment. This number has been approximated to be over 27 million adults who are not receiving care for their mental health. 

To ensure the information conveyed in this article is as comprehensible as possible, we’ve only included the access-to-care rankings for previously mentioned states. If you want to find out more (and see how every US state compares), have a look at this link

  • Oregon: 19th 
  • Nevada: 39th 
  • Connecticut: 9th 
  • Illinois: 13th 
  • North Dakota: 27th 
  • Iowa: 18th 

These rankings vary but are largely similar to the relevant state’s prevalence ranking. Although this doesn’t necessarily have a significant meaning, it perhaps indicates that a state’s prevalence of mental health rates is correlated with its accessibility to suitable care. As a takeaway message from this kind of data, we should be thinking more deeply about how different factors interact with each other and culminate in a) a greater number of individuals needing professional healthcare and b) the inability of these individuals to access healthcare. If we want to reduce mental health rates, then we need to look at viable solutions - and if you are a healthcare worker reading this, then maybe it’s time for you to think about ways to offer your services to a wider range of patients who require care. 

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