young man sitting with head in hands

America’s Mental Health Crisis

Americans are stressed out; they have been living through a pandemic, school shootings, and high inflation. Just in time, there’s a new mental health hotline launching, but it’s unclear how much it can do to fix what a majority of Americans believe is a broken mental healthcare system.

According to a survey by Mental Health America in 2022, nearly 50 million American adults were diagnosed with mental illness. The same data found that over 2.5 million 12-17 year olds have been diagnosed with major depression.

So, what’s being done? After the pandemic started in 2020, the number of Americans going to therapy increased according to data from a OnePoll on behalf of Vida Health. But therapy isn’t always how we deal with mental illness. Often, the police are called to respond to those suffering from a mental health crisis. 

A June Ipsos Poll conducted on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 86% of Americans believe a person experiencing a mental health or suicide crisis should receive a mental health response, not a police response. Only 13% of Americans think a police response is the better option.

Why are Americans hesitant to rely on the police to deal with people having mental health issues?

Maybe because of cases like this:

  • In 2020, 13-year-old Linden Cameron, who has autism, was having a mental health crisis when his mother called the police and asked for a crisis intervention team to provide help and treatment for her son. When the police arrived, Cameron ran away and was shot by a Salt Lake City police officer leaving him with injuries to his shoulder, ankles, intestines, and bladder, as well as nerve damage.
  • In 2021, Patrick Warren Sr. was shot and killed by Texas law enforcement while having a mental health crisis. 
  • In July, Robert E. Crimo III killed seven people in a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade. Prior to the shooting, Crimo had two encounters with law enforcement and a mental health assessment but received no treatment.

America’s mental health crisis has gotten Congress to act. Instead of calling 911, Americans can now call the number 988 to get connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The line goes live on July 16, allowing people to dial 988 and speak with trained mental health care professionals in their local area. 

Will it make a difference? Only 4% of Americans in the NAMI/Ipsos poll reported being familiar with the number and nearly half of Americans said they remain unaware of where to seek help in the event that someone they love is having a mental health crisis.

Creating a new mental health hotline is one step, but it’s probably not enough — Americans said they are more likely to strongly trust 911 than 988 according to the NAMI/Ipsos survey. Although, remember, very few are even aware the new line exists. And calling 988 can’t provide shelter, therapy, or long-term treatment to those suffering from mental illness. 

Yet, it’s a start. Here might be the most surprising thing about America’s mental health crisis: There’s no real partisan divide. The majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents say they aren’t happy with the state of mental health care in the U.S. Perhaps that will be enough to get America to develop a comprehensive mental health strategy.

This post was written by Marist Poll Media Team student Greta Stuckey.