Mental Health in the United States

December 10, 2021
Download Policy Brief

Executive Summary

In this brief, we discuss the state of mental health in the United States, the breakdown in mental illness across various demographic groups, and the recent mental health trends in the United States. In particular, we examine factors like COVID-19 and gender identity—two very strong factors that influence mental health.


The burden of mental illness in the United States is significant - more than 50 percent of individuals will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. In addition, 1 in 25 Americans live with a debilitating mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depressive disorder.

Policy Analysis

In 2019, there were an estimated 50.5 million adults diagnosed with any mental illness (AMI). This rate was higher for women (24.5%) than for men (16.3%). 44.8 percent of adults suffering from AMI received care in 2019. The percentage of individuals aged 18-25 that received care was lower, and access to mental health care seems to increase with age. This likely reflects changes in income and autonomy.

Mental Health in Diverse Populations  

  • Members of a racial or ethnic minority population are less likely to receive mental health care than those in the white majority in the United States.
  • Those in the LGBTQ+ community are twice as likely to experience mental health disorders.

The effect of these illnesses is often stronger in diverse populations. Although most minority groups have similar rates of mental illness as the white population, ethnic and racial minorities are faced with a “disproportionately high burden of disability related to mental disorders”. These minorities are less likely to receive mental health care - and those who do are often met with a lack of cultural understanding that impacts the quality of the care received. Among adults with a mental health diagnosis, 37.6 percent of white patients, but only 25 percent of black patients and 22.4 percent of latino patients receive care. As in healthcare, disparities in access may be due to lack of insurance, which is more prevalent in minority populations. 

Mental health disparities also exist for the LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ individuals are more than twice as likely as heterosexual men and women to have a mental health disorder in their lifetime. This in part leads to these individuals being 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance misuse compared to  heterosexual individuals. When examining the prevalence of suicidal tendencies among various identities, 4.4% of gay or lesbian individuals, 7.4% of bisexual individuals, and a whopping 30.8% of transgender individuals have considered attempting suicide. These numbers all show a stark increase from the 2.3% reported by heterosexual individuals. These disproportionately high rates of mental illness among LGBTQ individuals can, at least in part, be attributed to stigma and discrimination that still surrounds the LGBTQ community; for instance, discrimination in accessing healthcare, the lack of a social support system, the increased likelihood of being victims of violence.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Mental Health

  • The COVID-19 pandemic likely caused an increase in the amount of Americans experiencing a mental health disorder.
  • Providers have sought to offer online alternatives to more traditional, in-person treatment as demand rises for mental health services.

The COVID-19 pandemic has understandably had an impact on mental health worldwide. Recent studies show that news of rising infection rates and restricted activities is associated with an increased prevalence of major depressive and anxiety disorders. In the first few months of the pandemic, the percentage of U.S. adults experiencing a negative impact on their mental health increased from 32 to 53 percent. The prevalence of anxiety disorders increased threefold, and depression increased fourfold. In June of 2020, United States 30.9 percent of survey respondents reported at least one mental or behavioral health condition, and 26.3 percent reported a trauma-and-stressor related disorder related to the pandemic. In an attempt to address the increased demand for mental health services, many providers have begun offering online alternatives. In October 2020, 41 percent of mental health or substance abuse disorder related visits were conducted via telemedicine. 

If the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused you or someone you know to experience a mental health crisis, the CDC has compiled a list of resources here.


The recent decline of the state of mental health in the United States can largely be attributed to factors such as the social upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as disparities among various demographic groups.

Author Information

Stephanie Wang
Public Health Policy Lead

Stephanie is a high school senior, researcher, and Public Health Policy Lead. She is a passionate advocate of public health literacy and the author of Epidemiology Unmasked: An Introduction to Epidemiology in Public Health. In particular, Stephanie is interested in domestic, health, and educational policy and has conducted research on vaccine distribution, Alzheimer's disease, and public health education.

Samantha Overhauser
Public Health Policy Lead

Samantha is a college student in the final year of a BBA in economics. She serves as a Public Health Policy Brief Lead for YIP, as well as serving on the student union board at Baylor University. She is currently conducting research on health equity and safety net policy and intends to pursue a Master’s in Public Health.

Dan Siddiqui

Dan Siddiqui is a political activist and public speaker in his senior year of high school. He hosts the Youth In Policy podcast which has featured guests such as Noam Chomsky, Jo Jorgensen, and Howie Hawkins. In addition, he’s the political lead for the Silicon Valley chapter of the Sunrise Movement where he’s organized several protests in the bay area.

Jack Samet

Jack Samet is a high school junior and conservative Democrat living in Los Angeles, California who focuses on examining domestic and social policy. In his spare time, he enjoys writing, watching movies, debating contentious societal issues, and listening to classic rock and folk.

Adrienne Yue

Hi, my name is Adrienne and I'm a 16 year old from the Bay Area! I'm passionate about healthcare, public policy, and social medicine. I identify as a liberal and am excited to be a part of YIP!

Read More!

Looking for more? Subscribe to our Policy Brief Newsletter!

Get our latest policy briefs delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.