Introducing the “State of Mental Health” Survey

Taking The Pulse of Millennials & Gen Zers in America

By Dan Hoffmann, Project Healthy Minds, Head of Marketing

When we started building Project Healthy Minds more than two years ago, we could never have envisioned a year like 2020. All the data we reviewed at that time suggested America was already facing a mental health crisis hitting a breaking point, particularly among young people.

To the younger generations, this, of course, came as no surprise. We have come of age at a time when the fragility of our physical, financial and emotional safety has been exposed. From 9/11 to school shootings, to the Great Recession, to the acceleration of climate change, turbulent politics and racial justice, our confidence in norms and systems have been shaken time and time again. This has created a pervasive sense of anxiety among Millennials and Gen-Zers.

Enter 2020 -- a year like no other. We felt newfound urgency to understand how added challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and political and social unrest were impacting young people’s mental health. We started asking ourselves: What can we do to take the pulse of our generation in this moment?

Today, we’re unveiling the results of our inaugural State of Mental Health survey, a national survey of more than 1,000 18-34-year-olds.

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With this new bi-annual survey, our goal is to help business leaders, clinicians, telehealth entrepreneurs and policymakers – and all of us – better understand the crisis and build urgency and consensus around new solutions to address these problems.

The data from this first survey paints a clear, yet bleak picture: America is living on the brink. At a moment when so many of our peers are losing their jobs, struggling to make rent payments or moving back home with parents, and when COVID-19 infection rates are skyrocketing and Americans are increasingly socially isolated, we can see the alarming effects on the mental health of our generation.

Here are the key findings:

Anxiety is experienced near universally among young Americans

  • Nearly all (96%) respondents 18-34 years old report experiencing anxiety in their lives today, with almost half (48%) saying they experience feeling anxiety frequently or all the time.

Work and financial security are the primary drivers of anxiety for young people

  • 40% citing work/financial security as the primary sources of anxiety

Next-gen employees are prioritizing mental health at work

  • 2-in-3 young people consider mental health when evaluating jobs and employers

Employers have much more work to do to support employee mental health

  • Only 37% of women agree employers support their mental health vs. 49% of men
  • Only 26% say employers have implemented new programs during the pandemic

Young women and members of the LGBTQ+ community are suffering even worse

  • 1 in 3 women and 2 in 3 in LGBTQ+ community rate their mental health as poor
  • 44% (women) and 53% (LGBTQ+) say mental health worsened vs. this time last year

Majority of young adults have never met with a therapist

  • Cost is the primary barrier: 32% say therapy is “too expensive”
  • 21% are concerned about stigma or afraid to talk to someone

COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise fears about the future

  • Nearly 1 in 2 feel anxious about the possibility of new lockdowns or restrictions
  • Majority (51%) say COVID-19 made it harder to get services and support

These results also tell two alarming stories:

The mental health crisis is pervasive and impacts everyone: As our friend and Project Healthy Minds advisor  Will Cady said when he saw the data about near-universal anxiety, “96% is a huge number. It might as well be a survey of how many people breathe or drink water.” We were similarly blown away by that number.

The mental health crisis impacts all young people -- and everyone has their own story. The more we understand and internalize this, the more we can fight the stigma that too often surrounds this issue. The good news is that young people are leading the way, and PHM is helping by launching the largest stigma-reduction campaign that seeks to democratize and simplify accessibility to mental health solutions and build a more supportive environment. PHM is also developing a groundbreaking, free digital platform to connect individuals with vetted, tailored mental health support and help them navigate the confusing space of mental health services.

Mental health is the next big issue for business leaders: Young people are increasingly taking their mental health into account when considering jobs and employers. But are employers doing enough to support them? According to the World Health Organization, suicide has become the second leading cause of death globally among people aged 15 to 29. Even before this pandemic, depression and anxiety were costing the global economy $1 trillion each year. Pandemic burnout will almost certainly exacerbate this.

We published an op-ed in partnership with leading mental health physicians and researchers from the National Network of Depression Centers calling for business leaders to “recognize that improving mental health for employees is an important investment that demonstrates a commitment to stakeholder capitalism and could help combat another public health crisis.” Results from the State of Mental Health survey reinforce how important this is. We believe that commitment to supporting employee mental health will be one of the defining differentiators for employers over the next decade.

We’re doing this research to raise awareness and spark conversations because we believe the growing mental health crisis is one of the defining issues of our generation.

We’re looking forward to sharing the next round of results later this year. It will be interesting to see if current events, such as the availability of a COVID vaccine or a new Administration, are having any effect on the mental health of today’s younger generations.

Get access to the full deck of findings here.

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