The latest data on mental health and suicide in the United States shows some updated trends. Here’s what you need to know.

If you are experiencing the effects of a mental illness, either personally or with someone you know, you might sometimes feel alone on your journey. But many people have a mental health condition and work to manage their symptoms every day.

It’s often challenging to identify just how many people this includes due to a lack of current data or social stigmas around discussing mental health.

To help shed more light on the prevalence of mental illness and suicide in the United States, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) compiled an overview of mental illness facts and study data from several organizations.

They’ve found that people experiencing mental illness or thoughts of suicide are not alone.

To determine the state of mental health in the United States, NAMI reviewed data from several organizations, including:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

A summary of NAMI’s research can be found in its recent report, “Mental Health By the Numbers.”

Primarily, analysts used SAMHSA’s survey results from their 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This comprehensive interview-based screening consisted of 36,284 interviews, including 6,337 young people ages 12 to 17 and 29,947 adults ages 18 years or older.

Q: How many people have mental illness in the United States?

A: According to the NAMI report, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness. That’s 52.9 million people, a number roughly equal to the entire population of South Korea. Moreover, 2016 data suggests 1 in 6 young people ages 6 to 17 years have a mental health condition.

Statistics also show that anxiety disorders (48 million people) followed by major depression (21 million people) are the two most common conditions. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) comes in third at 9 million people affected.

Q: How many people die by suicide each year? How many attempt suicide?

A: In the United States, NAMI data reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 34. Across all age ranges, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. Overall, the suicide rate has been steadily climbing, increasing by 35% since 1999. In addition, a large percentage (78%) of people who die by suicide are male.

Ninety percent of people who die by suicide showed symptoms of a mental illness before their death. This information is often revealed after their death through interviews with family and friends.

The stats on people who have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide indicate that in 2019, 12 million U.S. adults contemplated ending their life. Among those adults, 3.5 million made plans to attempt suicide. Also, 1.4 million people actually attempted suicide.

Q: Why don’t people just seek help for their mental health disorders?

A: NAMI statistics suggest that slightly less than half of U.S. adults with a mental health condition received treatment in 2020. This is not well understood, but many key factors may be at play.

According to the NAMI report, there’s often an 11-year delay from the onset of mental health symptoms to receiving treatment. This delay may include a reluctance to seek help because of the social stigma surrounding mental health.

In addition, when people do seek treatment, quality care may not be available near where they live because of a lack of providers. For example, data suggests over 137 million people live in a location designated a Mental Health Professional Shortage Area. In addition, this lack of access may be compounded by racial disparities.

Also, not all people can afford adequate health insurance, and even in situations where they can afford it, not all health insurance policies cover a mental health diagnosis and treatment. Although affordable care options are available, some of these options, such as Medicaid, still have accessibility challenges.

Furthermore, additional Medicaid-related challenges may have resulted from the sudden strain on resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: Can mental illness and suicidal thoughts really begin at such young ages?

A: Yes, many mental health conditions can begin at an early age. NAMI data suggests that 50% of lifelong mental health conditions occur by age 14, while 75% occur by age 24.

According to the CDC, the most common mental health disorders diagnosed in people ages 2 to 17 years in the United States are:

In addition, boys are more likely than girls to experience a mental health disorder, as well as children living below 100% of the federal poverty level.

Q: Are cutting and self-harm a precursor to suicide attempts?

A: Self-injurious behavior like cutting occurs in approximately 15% to 46% of the population and can co-occur with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

However, It can be difficult to view self-harm as a warning sign for suicide because while one person who engages in cutting may attempt suicide, another person may not. The reasons behind engaging in self-harm are complex and require additional research.

Q: What are signs of suicidal behavior? What should I do if I observe signs?

A: If someone is contemplating suicide, the signs can be either easy to spot or may not even be present. People may express those thoughts in different ways or keep those feelings internalized.

Still, anytime someone begins to say things like, “I wish I were dead,” or any phrases that indicate they are giving up on life, their words should be taken seriously.

Other warning signs of suicide to look out for include:

  • an increase in substance use
  • behavior that seems aggressive, impulsive, or reckless
  • an increase in frequency and depth of mood swings
  • expressing hopelessness or emotional pain
  • withdrawal from usual activities, friends, or family

It is critical to seek help immediately or call 911 if someone you know begins to show even a few suicidal behaviors, such as:

  • giving away cherished personal possessions
  • suddenly finalizing paperwork with banks, lenders, or attorneys
  • visiting or calling friends and family members as if to say goodbye
  • unexpectedly buying weapons or acquiring extra unprescribed pills or medications

If you suspect someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or is contemplating suicide, consider reaching out to them with empathy and understanding.

Stay with them, remain calm, and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 or dial 911.

If possible, try to remove any items from the area that could be used to attempt suicide. While you are waiting for help, try to reassure them that you care about them and you will help them through this difficult time.

If you are personally experiencing any of these signs or are concerned about your thoughts of suicide, there are resources available to help you cope right now with suicidal thoughts. Also, friends and family will want to help you get the assistance you need.

The latest data shows an increase in mental illness and suicidal behavior among people living in the United States. It also highlights the state of mental health and the areas and resources that need improvement.

Mental illness and suicidal thoughts can be experienced by anyone — even very young people. The findings suggest that the shortages of mental health professionals have resulted in significant obstacles keeping people from treatment.

Furthermore, the data brings awareness to the value of mental health treatment and pushes aside the stigmas associated with mental health and suicide. People living with mental health conditions are not alone.