Executive Summary: A Survey about Mental Health and Suicide in the United States

September 1, 2015 |

Prepared for: Anxiety and Depression Associations of America, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Prepared By: Harris Poll

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDE SURVEY: Research Method and Note about the Report

Research Method
The Mental Health and Suicide Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of ADAA, AFSP, and NAASP between August 10th and 12th, 2015 among 2,020 adults ages 18+.

Results were weighted for age within gender, region, race/ethnicity, income, and education where necessary to align them with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of U.S. adults. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Poll panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

A Note about Reading the Report
The percentage of respondents has been included for each item.

  • An asterisk (*) signifies a value of less than one-half percent.
  • A dash represents a value of zero.
  • Percentages may not always add up to 100% because of computer rounding or the acceptance of multiple responses.

For the purposes of this summary, adults refers to U.S. adults aged 18+

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDE SURVEY: Executive Summary

Opinions of Mental Health
A majority (65%) of U.S. adults has seen a primary care physician within the past 12 months, yet only 12% have seen a mental health counselor or therapist. Despite this, about 9 in 10 adults (89%) feel that mental health and physical health are equally important for their own overall health. However, more than half (56%) say that, in our current healthcare system, physical health is treated as more important than mental health, and less than one-third (28%) feel that mental and physical health are treated equally. It is not surprising then that the overwhelming majority (92%) of adults feel that health services that address mental health, such as treatment for depression and suicide prevention, are fundamental to overall health and should be part of any basic health care plan.

While nearly two in five adults (38%) believe that seeing a mental health professional is a sign of strength, more than four in ten (43%) believe it is something that most people can’t afford. Similarly, three in ten feel it is not accessible for most people (31%) or something people do not know where to find (30%).

Nearly half (47%) of adults think they can tell when someone has a mental health condition or anxiety.

Experience with Mental Health
Overall, one-third of adults have ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition by a health care professional, with the most common diagnoses being depression (21%) and anxiety/panic disorder (20%). While only a third of adults have ever been diagnosed, nearly half (47%) admit that they have thought they may have had a mental health condition at some point. Nearly a third (31%) presumed they had anxiety/panic disorder (31%), while more than a quarter (28%) considered that they may have depression.

  • Women (37%) are significantly more likely than men (28%) to disclose they have ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition, and to have self-diagnosed with a mental health condition (51% vs. 43%).

Among adults who have been employed in the past 12 months, more than 1 in 10 have missed work days because they were too anxious (14%) or too depressed (16%) to go to work.

Nearly two in five (38%) adults have ever received treatment for a mental health condition. Talk therapy (29%) is the most commonly used treatment resource, followed by prescription medication (25%).

  • 92% of those professionally diagnosed and 70% of those self-diagnosed with a mental health condition have ever received treatment for a mental health condition.

Among those who ever used prescription medication to treat a mental health condition, two in five (41%) found it very helpful, while a third (34%) found it somewhat helpful. For those who used in-person psychotherapy, 45% found it very helpful, while more than a third (37%) found it somewhat helpful. Similarly, among those who received treatment via peer-support groups, 41% found it very helpful, while 37% found it somewhat helpful.

 

Attitudes Toward, and Knowledge About, Suicide
While about half (48%) of adults feel that suicide is a way to escape pain, nearly two in five (39%) feel it is a selfish act. More than a quarter (29%) say that suicide is an impulsive act, and one in five feel it is a sign of weakness or cowardice (20%). However, nearly one in five (18%) feel that suicide is a person’s right.

While only a quarter (26%) of adults feel they can tell if someone is suicidal, nearly three quarters (74%) believe that most people who die by suicide usually show some signs beforehand. A strong majority (81%)disagree that if someone wants to die by suicide, there is nothing anyone can do about it. In fact, two in five (43%) adults believe suicide can always/often be prevented, while about half (51%) feel it can sometimes be prevented.

  • Nearly half of those who know someone who has talked about/attempted/died by suicide believe suicide is always/often preventable (47%).

About three in five adults believe that better access to psychotherapy or medication (63%), better training for health care providers (62%), more research into how to help people and why people die by suicide (60%), and educating the public about suicide prevention (59%) would help reduce the number of people who die by suicide.

  • Among those who know someone who has talked about/attempted/died by suicide, the top response is not psychotherapy (63%) or medication (49%) but better training for health care providers on how to identify and help someone who is thinking about suicide (69%).

Equal percentages feel that various life situations (86%) and mental health conditions (86%) can increase a person’s risk of suicide. While a majority recognizes that depression (79%) and PTSD (61%) are risk factors, less than half (47%) recognize the role that anxiety/panic disorder can play in increasing a person’s risk of suicide.

  • Women (50%) are significantly more likely than men (44%) to connect anxiety/panic disorder with an increased risk of suicide.

When it comes to barriers that prevent people who are thinking about suicide from seeking help, about three-quarters of adults (74%) believe it is because they feel like nothing will help, while three in five say embarrassment (65%) or lack of hope (64%) contribute to their silence. Another perceived obstacle for seeking help seems to be accessibility/affordability: 68% of adults think that those contemplating suicide don’t know how to get help, while 62% think people can’t afford treatment and more than half believe there is a lack of access to treatment (53%).

Experience with Suicide
The overwhelming majority (93%) of adults would do something if someone close to them was thinking about suicide. Nearly four in five (78%) would encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional/doctor/primary care professional/clergy. Three in five (61%) would call a crisis hotline for them/provide them with a phone number for a crisis hotline or other resource. About half would take a more personal approach and tell them they are worried about them (54%), or talk with their friends/family about their concerns (50%). A small percentage (5%) of adults admits they wouldn’t know what to do, and only 1% wouldn’t do anything because they feel it’s none of their business.

While the majority of adults say they would do something if someone close to them was thinking about suicide, more than two in five (45%) say that something might stop them from trying to help. About a quarter would be afraid that they would make them feel worse (24%), while 23% wouldn’t know what to say or do.

More than half (55%) of adults say they know someone who has talked about/attempted/died by suicide. About one-third (32%) of adults know someone who has died by suicide, while a quarter know someone who has talked to them about thoughts of suicide (26%) or has attempted suicide but didn’t die (25%).

Two-thirds (67%) of adults know who they would tell if they were having thoughts of suicide. More than half (56%) would reach out to a friend/family member/spouse if they were contemplating suicide, while just over two in five (43%) would reach out to a healthcare provider. More than one in ten (13%) say they wouldn’t reach out to anyone.

  • Men (16%) are significantly more likely than women (11%) to say they would not reach out to others if they were contemplating suicide.

MENTAL HEALTH AND SUICIDE SURVEY: Topline Data

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS
Q1005 Which of the following health care providers did you see in the past 12 months? Please select all that apply.

n=

variable bases
ANY (NET)

80%

Primary care physician

65%

Medical specialist (e.g., cardiologist, endocrinologist)

26%

Nurse or nurse practitioner

20%

OB/GYN [shown to female respondents only]

19%

MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELOR OR THERAPIST (SUB-NET)

12%

Psychiatrist

7%

Psychologist

5%

Other mental health counselor or therapist

5%

Other health care provider

13%

None

20%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS
Q1010 Considering your own health, do you think that mental health or physical health is more important, or are they equally important?

n=

2020

Physical health is more important than mental health.

6%

Mental health is more important than physical health.

4%

They are equally important.

89%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS
Q1015 Which of the following best describes how you think the importance of mental health and physical health are treated in our current health care system?

n=

2020

Physical health is treated as more important than mental health

56%

Mental health is treated as more important than physical health

4%

Physical and mental health are treated as equally important

28%

Not sure

13%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1020 Which of the following best reflects your opinion? Please select all that apply.

Seeing a mental health professional is…

n=

2020

Something most people can’t afford

43%

A sign of strength

38%

Not accessible for most people

31%

Something people do not know where to find

30%

A last resort

10%

Ineffective

5%

A sign of weakness

4%

Not as good as seeing their minister, priest, or rabbi

3%

Not necessary because people should stand on their own

2%

None of these reflect my opinion

19%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS
Q1025 Have you ever been diagnosed by a medical or mental health professional with any of the following? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

ANY (NET)

33%

Depression

21%

ANXIETY/PANIC (SUB-NET)

20%

ANXIETY/GAD (SUB-SUB-NET)

18%

Anxiety

17%

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

4%

Social Anxiety Disorder

5%

Panic Disorder

4%

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

4%

ALCOHOL/DRUG USE (SUB-NET)

4%

Alcohol Use Disorder

3%

Drug Use Disorder

2%

Bipolar Disorder

3%

Eating Disorder (e.g., anorexia, bulimia)

3%

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

3%

Other mental health condition

3%

None

65%

Decline to answer

2%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS
Q1030 Have you ever thought that you have any of the following? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

ANY (NET)

47%

ANXIETY/PANIC (SUB-NET)

31%

ANXIETY/GAD (SUB-SUB-NET)

26%

Anxiety

24%

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

6%

Social Anxiety Disorder

12%

Panic Disorder

6%

Depression

28%

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

7%

ALCOHOL/DRUG USE (SUB-NET)

7%

Alcohol Use Disorder

6%

Drug Use Disorder

3%

Bipolar Disorder

6%

Eating Disorder (e.g., anorexia, bulimia)

5%

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

5%

Other mental health condition

3%

None

51%

Decline to answer

2%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS
Q1035 Which of the following types of treatment have you ever received for a mental health condition? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

ANY (NET)

28%

TALK THERAPY (SUB-NET)

29%

PSYCHOTHERAPY (SUB-SUB-NET)

24%

In-person psychotherapy

23%

Online psychotherapy

2%

Peer support (e.g., support group)

9%

Coaching (e.g., personal life coaching)

4%

Prescription medication

25%

Complementary/Alternative treatments (e.g., acupuncture, meditation, yoga)

4%

Other

2%

I have never received treatment for a mental health condition

62%

BASE: RECEIVED ANY LISTED TREATMENT
Q1040 How helpful was the treatment you received?

Prescription medication

n=

557

VERY/SOMEWHAT HELPFUL (NET)

75%

Very helpful

41%

Somewhat helpful

34%

NOT AT ALL/NOT VERY HELPFUL (NET)

25%

Not very helpful

16%

Not at all helpful

9%

In-person psychotherapy (e.g., talk therapy, counseling)

n=

515

VERY/SOMEWHAT HELPFUL (NET)

82%

Very helpful

45%

Somewhat helpful

37%

NOT AT ALL/NOT VERY HELPFUL (NET)

18%

Not very helpful

13%

Not at all helpful

5%

Online psychotherapy

n=

22**

VERY/SOMEWHAT HELPFUL (NET)

79%

Very helpful

46%

Somewhat helpful

32%

NOT AT ALL/NOT VERY HELPFUL (NET)

21%

Not very helpful

15%

Not at all helpful

7%

**Caution: small base size (n<100) – results should only be interpreted as qualitative, or directional, in nature

Coaching (e.g., personal life coaching)

n=

72**

VERY/SOMEWHAT HELPFUL (NET)

79%

Very helpful

43%

Somewhat helpful

36%

NOT AT ALL/NOT VERY HELPFUL (NET)

21%

Not very helpful

18%

Not at all helpful

3%

**Caution: small base size (n<100) – results should only be interpreted as qualitative, or directional, in nature

Peer support (e.g., support group)

n=

159

VERY/SOMEWHAT HELPFUL (NET)

78%

Very helpful

41%

Somewhat helpful

37%

NOT AT ALL/NOT VERY HELPFUL (NET)

22%

Not very helpful

19%

Not at all helpful

4%

Complementary/Alternative treatments (e.g., acupuncture, meditation, yoga)

n=

80**

VERY/SOMEWHAT HELPFUL (NET)

90%

Very helpful

51%

Somewhat helpful

38%

NOT AT ALL/NOT VERY HELPFUL (NET)

10%

Not very helpful

6%

Not at all helpful

4%

**Caution: small base size (n<100) – results should only be interpreted as qualitative, or directional, in nature.

BASE: EMPLOYED IN PAST 12 MONTHS

Q1045 In the past 12 months, how many days of work have you missed because because you were too anxious or too depressed to go to work?

Too anxious to go to work

n=

1166

0

86%

ANY (NET)

14%

1-5

9%

6+

4%

MEAN

0.9

MEDIAN

Too depressed to go to work

n=

1166

0

84%

ANY (NET)

16%

1-5

12%

6+

5%

MEAN

1.0

MEDIAN

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1050 Which of the following describe your opinion of suicide? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

A way to escape pain

48%

A selfish act

39%

An impulsive act

29%

A sign of weakness or cowardice

20%

A person’s right

18%

A selfless act

4%

A sign of strength or courage

2%

None of these

14%

Decline to answer

5%

 
 

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

 
 I can tell when someone is suicidal

n=

2020

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT AGREE (NET)

26%

Strongly agree

4%

Somewhat agree

21%

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT DISAGREE (NET)

74%

Somewhat disagree

44%

Strongly disagree

30%

 
 

If someone wants to die by suicide, there is nothing anyone can do to help them.

n=

2020

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT AGREE (NET)

19%

Strongly agree

5%

Somewhat agree

14%

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT DISAGREE (NET)

81%

Somewhat disagree

35%

Strongly disagree

46%

 
 

Health services that address mental health, such as treatment for depression and suicide prevention, are fundamental to overall health and should be part of any basic health care plan. 
 

n=

2020

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT AGREE (NET)

92%

Strongly agree

57%

Somewhat agree

34%

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT DISAGREE

8%

Somewhat disagree

5%

Strongly disagree

3%

I can tell when someone has a mental health condition like depression or anxiety.

n=

2020

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT AGREE (NET)

47%

Strongly agree

8%

Somewhat agree

39%

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT DISAGREE (NET)

53%

Somewhat disagree

35%

Strongly disagree

18%

Most people who die by suicide usually show some signs beforehand.

n=

2020

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT AGREE (NET)

74%

Strongly agree

22%

Somewhat agree

52%

STRONGLY/SOMEWHAT DISAGREE (NET)

26%

Somewhat disagree

21%

Strongly disagree

5%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1060 Do you think suicide can be prevented…?

n=

2020

EVER (NET)

98%

ALWAYS/OFTEN (SUBNET)

43%

Always

9%

Often

34%

Sometimes

51%

Rarely

4%

Never

2%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1065 As far as you know, which of the following increases a person’s risk of suicide? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

ANY (NET)

90%

LIFE SITUATIONS (SUB-NET)

86%

Feeling hopeless

75%

Being bullied

71%

Financial problems

69%

Relationship problems

62%

Losing a job

56%

Going through a divorce

51%

MENTAL HEALTH (SUB-NET)

86%

Depression

79%

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

61%

Bipolar Disorder

48%

ANXIETY/PANIC (SUB-SUB-NET)

47%

Anxiety

41%

Panic disorder

32%

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

27%

Social Anxiety Disorder

36%

Eating disorder (e.g., anorexia, bulimia)

29%

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

22%

Other mental health condition

42%

DRUG/ALCOHOL USE (SUB-NET)

67%

Drug use

65%

Alcohol use

58%

CHRONIC CONDITION/PAIN (SUB-NET)

66%

Chronic pain

57%

Chronic health conditions

57%

Other

6%

None

2%

Not at all sure

9%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1070 What do you think are some of the barriers that prevent people who are thinking about suicide from seeking help? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

ANY (NET)

93%

Feeling like nothing will help

74%

Not knowing how to get help

68%

Embarrassment

65%

Lack of hope

64%

Can’t afford treatment

62%

Lack of access to treatment

53%

Social stigma

52%

Lack of social support

52%

Fear of disappointing others

48%

Fear of losing a job

30%

Other

5%

Not at all sure

7%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

 Q1075 Which of the following do you think would help reduce the number of people who die by suicide? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

SOMETHING (NET)

89%

BETTER ACCESS TO PSYCHOTHERAPY/MEDICATION (SUB-NET)

63%

Better access to psychotherapy

56%

Better access to medication

42%

Better training for health care providers on how to identify and help someone who is thinking about suicide

62%

MORE RESEARCH (SUB-NET)

60%

More research into how to help people who are thinking about suicide

50%

More research into how to help people who have made a suicide attempt

46%

More research into why people die by suicide

35%

Educating the public about suicide prevention 59%
Educating community leaders such as teachers and clergy (i.e., minister, pastor, priest, or rabbi) about how to identify and help people 53%
Better education for first responders (e.g., police/law enforcement, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians) to identify and help people who are suicidal 49%
Teaching problem-solving skills as a way to prevent suicide

47%

Other

7%

Nothing would help

1%

Not at all sure

11%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1080 Which of the following describe what you would do if someone close to you was thinking about suicide? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

WOULD DO SOMETHING (NET) 93%
ENCOURAGE THEM TO SEEK HELP (SUB-NET)

78%

Encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional

69%

Encourage them to seek help from a doctor or primary care health professional

57%

Encourage them to seek help from clergy (e.g., minister, priest, rabbi)

39%

Stay with them until they could get help

63%

CALL/PROVIDE CRISIS HOTLINE (SUB-NET)

61%

Call a crisis hotline

46%

Provide them with a phone number for a crisis hotline or other resource

42%

Tell them I am worried about them

54%

Talk with their friends or family about my concerns

50%

ER/POLICE/FIRE/EMT (SUB-NET)

37%

Seek help from police, fire department, or EMTSs (emergency medical technicians)

27%

Take them to the emergency room (ER)

23%

Visit a website for information

22%

Tell them everything will be ok

22%

Leave them alone

1%

Other

5%

I wouldn’t know what to do.

5%

Do nothing; it’s none of my business

1%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1085 Which of the following might stop you from trying to help someone close to you who was thinking about suicide? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

SOMETHING (NET)

45%

I would be afraid that I would make them feel worse

24%

I wouldn’t know what to say or do

23%

I would be afraid that there were may be nothing i can do to help

18%

I would be afraid that talking about it would make them attempt

16%

I wouldn’t want to get involved

3%

Other

3%

Nothing would prevent me from trying to help

55%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1090 Which of the following are true for you? Please select all that apply.

Someone I know…

n=

KNOW SOMEONE WHO TALKED ABOUT/ATTEMPTED/DIED BY SUICIDE (NET)

55%

Died by suicide

32%

Has talked to me about thoughts of suicide

26%

Has attempted suicide but didn’t die

25%

I don’t know anyone who has thought about suicide or died by suicide

41%

Decline to answer 4%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q1095 If you were having thoughts of suicide, who would you tell? Please select all that apply.

n=

2020

WOULD TELL SOMEONE (NET)

67%

FRIENDS/FAMILY/SPOUSE (SUB-NET)

56%

Spouse/Significant other/Partner

37%

Family member (other than spouse)

33%

Friend

33%

HEALTHCARE PROVIDER (SUB-NET)

43%

Mental health provider (e.g., psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist)

32%

Primary care doctor

28%

Hotline

19%

Clergy/Faith leader (i.e., minister, pastor, priest or rabbi)

16%

Other

1%

No one

13%

Not sure

17%

Decline to answer

2%

DEMOGRAPHICS

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q4005 Gender

n=

2020

Male

48%

Female

52%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q4007 Age

n=

2020

18-34

29%

35-44

17%

45-54

16%

55-64

19%

65

19%

MEAN

47.0

MEDIUM

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q2164 Region

n=

2020

Northeast

21%

Midwest

22%

South

34%

West

23%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q2146 Education

n=

2020

HIGH SCHOOL OR LESS (NET)

33%

Less than high school

Completed some high school

3%

Completed high school

30%

ATTENDED COLLEGE OR COLLEGE DEGREE

48%

Some college, but no degree

20%

Associate Degree

9%

College (such as B.A., B.S.)

19%

ATTENDED GRADUATE SCHOOL OR GRADUATE DEGREE (NET)

10%

Some graduate school, but no degree

2%

Graduate degree (such as MBA, MS, M.D., Ph.D.)

8%

Job-specific training program(s) after high school

8%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q2149 Employment Status

n=

2020

Employed full time

37%

Employed part time

10%

Homemaker

11%

Retired

21%

Not employed, unable to work due to a disability or illness

6%

Self-employed

6%

Not employed, but looking for work

8%

Not employed and not looking for work

2%

Student

7%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q2135 Marital Status

n=

2020

Married or civil union

54%

Divorced

9%

Never married

26%

Living with partner

7%

Widow/Widower

4%

Separated

1%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q2175/2178 Race/Ethnicity

n=

2020

White

76%

Hispanic

14%

Black/African American

13%

Asian or Pacific Islander

3%

Native American or Alaskan Native

1%

Some other race

5%

Decline to Answer

2%

BASE: U.S. RESPONDENTS

Q2157 Annual Household Income (2014)

n=

2020

Less than $15,000

8%

$15,000 to $24,999

8%

$25,000 to $34,999

9%

$35,000 to $49,999

12%

$50,000 to $74,999

17%

$75,000 to $99,999

12%

$100,000 to $124,999

10%

$125,000 to $149,999

5%

$150,000 to $199,999

6%

$200,000 to $249,999

2%

$250,000 or more

1%

Decline to answer

9%

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