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Nearly one in four young adults received mental health treatment in 2021, CDC says

Philadelphia Inquirer - 9/7/2022

Sep. 8—A new report from the Centers for Disease Control found that nearly one in four adults ages 18-44 received mental health therapy in 2021, an increase from 2020 and 2019. The rate was closer to one in three among White young adults. Hispanic, Asian and Black young adults all had rates lower than 15%.

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The CDC analysis, released Wednesday, defines mental health treatment as having received a prescription medication, going to therapy or counseling, or both in the past 12 months. Roughly 21.5% of all adults received mental health treatment in 2021, up from just over 19% in 2019.

The largest increase in mental health treatment during the three-year study period was among adults between ages 18 and 44. About 23% received treatment in 2021, up from 18.5% in 2019. Women reported higher rates of mental health treatment than men.

More people engaging in mental health treatment is good news, said Molly Candon, research assistant professor in the Center for Mental Health at the University of Pennsylvania.

"The bad news is there's still a lot of unmet need," she said. The uptick in treatment "is a fraction of the increase in mental health issues over the last few years."

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Between 2020 and 2021, mental health treatment rates rose for nearly all demographics tracked in the study. Among the exceptions are Black people, whose treatment rates declined to a rate that is half that of white people. The rate at which Asian people received mental health treatment nearly doubled since 2021, though it remained overall lowest at 11%. The smallest increase was for Hispanic adults, 13% of received treatment in 2021.

Racial disparities in mental health treatment persisted in 2021 even as research found that the mental health of Black, Hispanic, and Asian adults worsened relative to that of white adults during the pandemic.

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Some factors that contribute to these disparities include health insurance challenges, distrust of the health care system, stigma and lack of access to diverse providers, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

The high rates of adults who sought mental health treatment puts into context the backlog that mental health providers and people seeking care have been observing.

Last year, the U.S. Surgeon General warned of a youth mental health crisis that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. But adults' mental wellbeing also suffered during the pandemic, and new stressors brought on by COVID may have contributed to rising treatment rates. Last week the CDC reported that life expectancy declined in the U.S. in 2021 and noted suicide as one of the drivers of the decline. That suggests that gains against suicide that has been achieved prior to the pandemic are being undone.


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