Mental Health in the US – How Where You Live Could Affect Certain Mental Health Problems
Evidence suggests where you live in the US can impact your mental health and what treatments you’ll be able to access. For instance, you’re more likely to develop symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) if you live in Alaska, due to its long, dark winters. Living in Florida could make you more prone to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, caused by stressors like the high chance of hurricanes each year.
Access to treatment varies greatly from state to state and could use improvement across the country. Vermont offers some of the best mental health care in the US, which may make getting help easier. Our research shows that Texas doesn’t offer adequate mental healthcare, so you may have a harder time finding resources there.
Treating mental health will never be as simple as moving from one state to another. A new location may help reduce the symptoms of some issues, but moving alone won’t eliminate them. Read on to find out how mental health problems and treatments vary between states, as well as how technology can help or harm your mental health.
The Current State of Mental Health in the US
The need for mental healthcare is increasing across the country, but the number of specialists – like psychologists and psychiatrists – who can provide care is decreasing every year. Experts predict the national shortage of mental health professionals will worsen, reaching 14k–31k of unfilled positions by 2024.
Only a third of all primary care facilities in the US have mental health professionals on staff. In comparison, countries like the Netherlands and Sweden offer mental healthcare in 90% of primary care facilities.
Recent federal data highlighted that hospitals are at 144% capacity for psychiatric inpatient beds. There are only around 35,000 psychiatric beds nationwide — an average of 11 beds per 100,000 people. This number isn’t completely accurate as many beds are designated for long-term patients, making them unavailable for walk-in patients. This may explain why 56% of adults don’t receive treatment.
According to Mental Health America, almost 20% of US adults experienced a mental health problem in 2022 – equivalent to around 50 million people. Of these, 4.91% reported having a severe condition like schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. Around 11.4 million people had serious suicidal thoughts, increasing by over 660,000 from 2021.
Mental Health Searches by State
Many people in the US have taken to Google and other search engines to research information about specific mental health issues. According to our in-house analysis of Google Search results, anxiety was the most common mental health search term in every state in 2022.
According to the Inspira Health Network, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the US. Studies by the ADAA found that approximately 19.1% of adults in the US have an anxiety disorder (around 40 million) — though this number could be much higher as many don’t seek help.
The second most searched term was depression, which affects at least 1 in 10 people in the US. This is inline with Inspira Health Network’s findings, which show that depression and PTSD are the second and third most common mental health conditions. Anxiety, depression, and PTSD make up 30% of all mental health diagnoses.
There were some variations between different states. Some notable differences included multiple terms ranking equally high, such as in North Dakota, where the same number of searches were performed for depression, stress, and suicide. Maine also had multiple terms rank second, with depression and suicide having equal search statistics.
Overall, suicide was the third most common search term. Only four states had suicide as the second most searched term — Idaho, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Wyoming. Other terms including stress and SAD also appeared third in many states.
Covid-19’s Impact on Mental Health in the US
Covid-19 exacerbated the pre-existing mental health crisis. It led to limited social interaction and increased rates of unemployment and homelessness. This in turn caused an increase in anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol overdoses, and suicides.
Hybrid and remote work also increased due to the pandemic, leading to increased social isolation. Zippia revealed that as of 2023, 66% of US employees work remotely at least part of the time. Working from home has eliminated many of the interactions we’d usually have at work, making it harder to create informal relationships and support networks.
On the positive side, remote work can result in some mental health benefits, including eliminating stressful commutes (especially true in larger cities) and having more time with family. Introverts could work from the comfort of their homes and in many cases, became more involved at work and increased their productivity.
Unfortunately, the pandemic increased mental health challenges too. When people started returning to their offices, they often had anxiety over the possibility of catching or spreading Covid. According to the APA, employees who continued to work remotely felt isolated and lonely. Many felt they couldn’t escape work as their devices constantly notified them about work messages.
Mental Health Disparities Across US States and the Factors Behind Them
Mental health issues affect more than 1 in 5 adults across the US. Not everyone is impacted equally — your environment could have a major influence on your mental health. For example, Hawaii has beautiful weather but is prone to natural disasters like volcanic eruptions. Living there could reduce the symptoms of SAD, but might increase symptoms of anxiety disorders. These four environmental factors have the biggest impact on people’s mental health.
Many states in the US experience drastic summers and winters. Northern states deal with huge temperature drops, and snow and ice storms. Alaska even experiences a polar night in the winter and midnight sun through the summer. This increases Alaskans’ chances of developing seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression.
Experts believe that SAD occurs when circadian rhythms are disrupted by seasonal changes to daylight hours. Decreased daylight means your body might move serotonin — the chemical responsible for your mood, sleep, happiness, satisfaction, and more — through your body too quickly, making you more likely to develop SAD.
Roughly 20 million adults deal with SAD each year, experiencing tiredness, sluggishness, depression, and anxiety. People in northern states like Alaska, Vermont, Minnesota, Maine, Washington, and Michigan are more prone to SAD as they see fewer daylight hours on average. Fortunately, SAD usually goes away as seasons change and the ratio of sunlight to darkness balances out.
Some states deal with more extreme weather than others. For example, North Dakota experiences blizzards and ice storms, California has wildfires, Mississippi has tornadoes, Florida deals with hurricanes, and a group of Louisiana parishes has one the highest flood risks in the country.
Extreme situations can take a toll on your mental health even if you experience them just once. Prolonged exposure can increase your risk of developing some mental health problems, or exacerbate pre-existing issues. Research suggests people who experience frequent natural disasters are more likely to experience PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Natural disasters can also make socializing harder and result in “cabin fever,” which often has a detrimental impact on how you feel. Some of the most notable effects of long-term cabin fever include depression, restlessness, and irritability.
Urban Stressors & Rural Tranquility
Many people dream of moving to a big city like New York or Chicago, but living in urban areas could increase the symptoms of many mental health issues. This is due in part to the stress associated with air pollution, daily commutes, and high levels of unemployment, homelessness, and poverty.
Adults living in cities are 40% more likely to develop depression, and are 20% more likely to have severe anxiety. City life could also double your risk of schizophrenia. Children are affected, too: research shows that living in urban areas can lower cognitive function and increase feelings of depression.
Another reason people living in cities are at risk is extended sensory overload, which humans aren’t designed for. Constant exposure to stimuli can create overactivity in your amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for responding to fear, and your anterior cingulate cortex, the area that regulates your emotions.
If these areas in your brain experience long-term overload, you could be at increased risk for various psychotic disorders, depression, and anxiety.
Societal Pressure & Politics
Politics can have a harmful impact on our mental health, and the effects seem to worsen around major elections, which elevate the number of people dealing with mental health issues. Around the 2022 elections, an estimated 50–85 million US citizens nationwide reported dealing with fatigue, anger issues, insomnia, and/or poor impulse control.
The same study found that 5% of people in the US (almost 12 million people) had thoughts of suicide due to politics.
The Mental Health Stigma
Unfortunately, stigmas surrounding mental health often prevent people from asking for help when they need it. When the American Psychiatric Association asked people about challenges surrounding mental health in the workplace, 1 in 3 people responded that they were scared to seek treatment for fear of losing their jobs. Alarmingly, half of those polled didn’t even want to talk about mental health.
Stigmas surrounding mental health problems are often based on fear or a general lack of understanding. The media’s inaccurate and violent representations of people with mental illnesses only increase the negative stigmas. For example, a 2020 study found that watching the film Joker, in which the lead character has a mental health problem, increased prejudice toward those with similar conditions.
Can Technology Impact Your Mental Health?
We are constantly surrounded by technology: we wear smartwatches, take cell phones everywhere we go, and talk to ever-listening AI assistants like Alexa. Constant stimuli, and the ability to get the latest news and information with a single touch at any time, can have negative and positive effects on our mental health.
How Tech Negatively Affects Mental Health
Technology lets you stay connected anywhere we go, but this can induce a fear of missing out (FOMO). When you’re not online, you might wonder what the latest TikTok craze is or what your friends are posting on their socials. The need to stay involved and up-to-date can trigger anxiety, insomnia, and compulsive behaviors.
Technology use also increases your screen time. On average, a US adult spends around 7 hours per day looking at a screen. While many need to do it for work, spending too much time in front of a screen can add to feelings of depression, anxiety, and brain fog.
Increased screen time may affect your sleep patterns as the blue light emitted by electronic devices disrupts production of melatonin — a sleepy hormone. If you scroll through social media in bed, your brain interprets the light from your phone as daylight. As a result, you feel less drowsy and take longer falling asleep. Without the proper amount of rest, it’s harder to manage mental health problems and everyday stressors.
Social media can make certain mental health issues worse. Consuming content about diets and exercise could lead to eating disorders, self-harm, low self-esteem, and depression as people try to meet impossible body image standards. Extensive social media use can also exacerbate the symptoms of ADHD/ADD, especially in young adults and teens, as everything is delivered in quick, digestible pieces.
Many third parties, including the government and advertising companies, use tech advancements to track your life choices. This constant surveillance and feeling like someone is always watching you can increase anxiety, paranoia and even provoke PTSD-like symptoms. An increase in digital anxiety has led to more people worrying about who can access their devices and data, leading to an increase in antivirus, malware, and VPN download rates.
How Tech Positively Affects Mental Health
Technology advancements led to a boom in mental health apps. These put a variety of mindfulness, cognitive, and coping techniques at your fingertips. While nothing can replace therapy, professionals in the field agree mental health apps can help amp up your self-care routine. They may also prevent your symptoms from increasing or worsening.
Improved AI technologies led to the development of VR and AI-led therapy. This involves using chatbots which can now recognize signs of emotional distress in your voice. They also attempt to talk you through difficult situations using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques. Virtual reality has also become a popular way for people to seek professional help from the comfort of their homes.
Social media, chat apps, video platforms, and other forms of technology offer plenty of ways to make friends and stay in touch with people. This can help you feel a sense of belonging and keep you connected to those that matter to you the most. As a result, you’re more likely to cope better with stress, anxiety, and depression.
Despite common misconceptions, video games have many mental health benefits. Studies have shown that playing video games can lower the risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Playing and winning video games gives you a sense of accomplishment, boosts self-confidence, and can improve emotional resilience.
Mental Health in the US Is As Varied As the States Themselves
Even if moving to a state that provides better mental healthcare was practical, it wouldn’t be a replacement for proper psychiatric care. While some states offer much more advanced treatment options, one thing is certain: regardless of where you live in the US, the country is facing a nationwide mental health crisis. While it’s alarming that so many people are using Google to research conditions like anxiety and depression in every state, it’s also encouraging to know that people are looking for help.