United Way of Southwest Alabama / President's Desk  / President’s May Blog – National Mental Health Awareness Month
President's May Blog - Mental Health Awareness Month

President’s May Blog – National Mental Health Awareness Month

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. According to Mental Health America’s 2021 The State of Mental Health in America, Alabama ranks 40th in the nation for mental health. The report paints a bleak picture of mental health not only for Alabamians but for Americans. Listed below are some staggering statistics from the report.

Youth mental health is worsening. 9.7% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression, compared to 9.2% in last year’s dataset. This rate was highest among youth who identify as more than one race, at 12.4%.

Even before COVID-19, the prevalence of mental illness among adults was increasing. In 2017-2018, 19% of adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people Suicidal ideation among adults is increasing. The percentage of adults in the U.S. who are experiencing serious thoughts of suicide increased 0.15% from 2016-2017 to 2017-2018 – an additional 460,000 people from last year’s dataset.

The number of people looking for help with anxiety and depression has skyrocketed. From January to September 2020, 315,220 people took the anxiety screen, a 93 percent increase over the 2019 total number of anxiety screens. 534,784 people took the depression screen, a 62 percent increase over the 2019 total number of depression screens.

The number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has continued to increase throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates prior to COVID-19. In September 2020, the rate of moderate to severe anxiety peaked, with over 8 in 10 people who took an anxiety screen scoring with moderate to severe symptoms. Over 8 in 10 people who took a depression screen have scored with symptoms of moderate to severe depression consistently since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

More people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the MHA Screening program since its launch in 2014. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread rapidly in March 2020, over 178,000 people have reported frequent suicidal ideation. 37 percent of people reported having thoughts of suicide more than half or nearly every day in September 2020.

Young people are struggling most with their mental health. The proportion of youth ages 11-17 who accessed screening was 9 percent higher than the average in 2019. Not only are the number of youth searching for help with their mental health increasing, but throughout the COVID-19 pandemic youth ages 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to score for moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Rates of suicidal ideation are highest among youth, especially LGBTQ+ youth. In September 2020, over half of 11-17-year-olds reported having thoughts of suicide or self-harm more than half or nearly every day of the previous two weeks. From January to September 2020, 77,470 youth reported experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, including 27,980 LGBTQ+ youth.

People screening at risk for mental health conditions are struggling most with loneliness or isolation. From April to September 2020, among people who screened with moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety or depression, 70 percent reported that one of the top three things contributing to their mental health concerns was loneliness or isolation.

People who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander are searching for mental health resources more in 2020 than ever before. The proportion of screeners identifying as Asian or Pacific Islander increased 7 percent, from 9 percent of screeners in 2019 to 16 percent in 2020.

While rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are increasing for people of all races and ethnicities, there are notable differences in those changes over time. Black or African American screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression, while Native American or American Indian screeners have had the highest average percent change over time for suicidal ideation.

In acknowledgement of Mental Health Awareness Month, the National Alliance on Mental Health is running the campaign You Are NOT Alone.  According to the Alliance, “Now, more than ever, we need to find ways to stay connected with our community. No one should feel alone or without the information, support and help they need.”

United Way of Southwest Alabama’s 2-1-1 provides that support.  UWSWA’s 2-1-1 collaborates with health and human service organizations in Choctaw, Clarke, Mobile and Washington Counties to address, among many things, mental health.  UWSWA’s 2-1-1 connects callers to trained specialists who use a comprehensive database to provide access to resources and programs for the prevention and treatment of mental illness. The network empowers all individuals with the information they need to access help and to offer hope.

With UWSWA’s 2-1-1, You Are NOT Alone. Please call and get the help you or a loved one needs.


By Jill Chenoweth, UWSWA President & CEO

Click here to view the May United Way Facebook Live Broadcast featuring AltaPointe Health Systems Communications Director April Douglas, Lifelines Family Counseling Director Chandra Brown, Victory Health Counselor Jason Bryum, Family Law Attorney Alison Herlihy,  UWSWA Vice President of Resource Development Justine Bixler, Outreach & Community Engagement Coordinator Katherine Pitman, and UWSWA Marketing Specialist & AFL-CIO Labor Engagement Liaison Leslie Schraeder