The existence of a homeless encampment in Minneapolis is shining a light on a homelessness crisis sparked by a lack of mental health care, affordable housing and drug addiction treatment. (Kerem Yucel /AFP/ Getty Images)

A new report on the state of mental health in the United States says that in recent years, there have been “alarming” increases in major depression in youth and in the prevalence of adults harboring suicidal thoughts.

The 2018 installment of “The State of Mental Health in America” from the nonprofit Mental Health America also says most Americans who need access to mental health care do not get it, and it details the long-term consequences of childhood trauma.

Key Findings 

Mental Health America, which works to ensure people get the mental-health services they need, used 15 measures (such as the percentages of youth with major depression and substance use disorder) to reach its conclusions. The information came from databases and was the latest available for all 50 states and the District of Columbia (with some minor exceptions). The latest year available was 2015 (meaning the Trump era is not included).

The authors of the report concede the 15 measures do not present “a complete picture of the mental health system” in this country, but “they do provide a strong foundation for understanding the prevalence of mental health concerns, as well as issues of access to insurance and treatment." They also note some of the surveys used to get data do not include the homeless population, whose inclusion would likely raise the percentage of youth and adults who suffer from mental illness.

The report says:

While much of the state of our mental health care continues to be broken, there are glimmers of hope. Since the release of its first report [five years ago], MHA is seeing small yet encouraging decreases in the number of American adults who have mental health concerns (from 18.19% to 18.07%) and substance use problems (from 8.76% to 7.93%). Yet overall, the picture is still quite bleak. . . .

The estimated number of adults with serious suicidal thoughts is over 9.8 million – an increase of 200,000 people since last year. Over 2 million young people cope with severe major depression. And that is just the population that has been diagnosed. On average, it takes 10 years between the onset of symptoms and when individuals receive treatment. Over 24 million individuals experiencing a mental health illness are going untreated.

The report’s authors spend time detailing the long-term impact of trauma on young people, noting it is estimated 1 in 4 children will experience maltreatment in their lifetime, while 1 in 7 experienced it in the past year. There was a 3.8 percent increase in reported childhood abuse cases from 2011 to 2015, though many cases go unreported.

Trauma, the report says, can cause permanent changes in the structure and chemical activity in the brain, affecting the ability to learn, solve problems, regulate emotions and assess and respond to environmental threats. It also says cognitive, emotional and behavioral effects of trauma are often heightened when a child starts school and finds herself in a new environment and routine, which can “cause emotional, psychological and physical distress.”