Americans More Stressed Out Than Ever

Feeling distressed? A new CDC report on America's mental health shows you've got plenty of company.

Researchers found a growing number of Americans report feeling stressed, depressed, or having problems with their emotions. The results suggest that poor mental health is on the rise in America and more efforts may be needed to encourage adults to seek treatment for mental health problems.

Overall, the nationwide survey found the prevalence of adults who reported poor mental health on 14 or more days during the last month increased from 8.4 percent in 1993 to 10.1 percent in 2001.

The report also shows that the poor mental health is more common among women and certain racial and ethnic minorities.

Poor Mental Health Varies by Group

In the study, which appears in this week's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (search), researchers surveyed more than 1 million adults from all 50 states during 1993-2001 to examine the prevalence of frequent mental distress (FMD) among Americans.

Frequent mental distress was defined as 14 or more days in the past 30 days for which the respondent said their mental health, including stress, depression, and problems with emotions, was not good.

Researchers found the prevalence of frequent mental distress increased 1.7% from 1993 to 2001, mostly due to increases among certain ethnic and racial groups.

Poor mental health was most common among American Indians and Alaska Natives with 14.4 percent reporting frequent mental distress in 2001. It was least common among Asian/Pacific Islanders at 6.2 percent.

Researchers say a high prevalence of unhealthy behaviors, such as alcoholism, and other physical and social disadvantages among American Indians and Alaskan Natives may contribute to the high rates of poor mental health in these groups.

They also say cultural norms and a reluctance to disclose poor mental health due to perceptions of a stigma among Asians may also partially explain their low rates of poor mental health.

In addition, the study also showed that several other groups were more likely to report poor mental health, such as people who were:

Younger; female; separated, divorced, or widowed; unemployed or unable to work; had an annual household income under $15,000; high school graduates; had no health insurance

Researchers say targeting these socioeconomic risk factors and improving access to mental health and social services could help reduce the number of Americans with poor mental health. Also, efforts to increase education about mental health to reduce stigmas and encourage people to seek treatment for mental health problems are needed.

By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 22, 2004; vol 53: pp 963-966. News release, CDC.