8 EYE-OPENING MENTAL HEALTH STATISTICS AROUND THE GLOBE

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

As each calendar year passes, you can’t help but notice that mental health issues are increasingly surrounding us at every turn. We see it in our classrooms. We see it on our campuses. We see it on our streets. We see it in our families. We see it in our workplaces. We see it in our friends. And perhaps most of all, we recognize it within the confines of our own minds. Many of us are quite familiar with the crippling feeling of being unable to run from ourselves. If only there was an outer body experience that could put just a little separation between us and the war going on in our brains. In reality, there is nowhere to run. We are stuck with the brain we have. So we try our best to cope. As we witness in HBO’s hit drama Euphoria, there is a wide-range of modern-day narcotics at our disposal. Social media, smartphones and digital distraction. Sex and hookups. Oxy, weed and coke. Netflix and porn. Binge eating and alcohol. Excessive amounts of coffee. Anything to numb the pain. With the words anxiety and depression becoming such commonplace in our society, it’s fair to wonder whether we were already in a pandemic long before the COVID pandemic began in the beginning of 2020. But how bad is this problem, exactly? We can smell the smoke from the burning building from a mile away, yet it requires us getting up close to assess the true damage and how bad the spread actually is. The following mental health statistics help contextualize the problem and ultimately, why the odds are stacked against us in this battle.

STATISTIC #1: GOVERNMENT SPENDING

Perhaps the only natural place to start unpacking mental health statistics is by pointing out that we refuse to see the problem in the first place. While the West is a little farther along in terms of acknowledging mental health as an actual health issue, this is not the case in many parts of the world. How do we know this? It reflects in terms of how they prioritize it within government spending.

Globally, WHO noted in 2013 that the average percentage of government spending on mental health was just 0.5% of the overall health budget.

This is mind-blogging. And in the years since, it hasn't gotten any better. Take the United States for example. They may be a bit farther along in the de-stigmatization of mental health, but they spent just 5.5% of their annual health budget on mental health. This reflects how high it is on the priority list of the government. And it’s not as if there isn’t a need.

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STATISTIC #2: TOTAL SUFFERERS

Nearly 25% of the US population has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, namely PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Social Anxiety, Schizophrenia, OCD and/or Clinical Depression. Note the importance of the word diagnosed. This percentage does not reflect three categories of people:
  1. Those who suffer the general anxieties of life
  2. Those who have seasonal depression
  3. Those who have not sought help and/or have not been diagnosed
 When you consider these three groups, the reality is that the majority of the population is likely struggling with their mental health in one way or another. And this is just in the United States. As of 2017, there were 792 million worldwide reported to have a mental health disorder. That's 10% of the entire population in the world. Again, this is just what’s been reported among many countries who do not prioritize mental health. How much higher could the actual number be? But maybe you’re not one for speculation and thus, are not convinced. So let’s consider what’s happening on college campuses across America to further articulate the problem.

STATISTIC #3: THE COLLEGE MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS

As our team researched and studied mental health statistics across the globe, the following might have been the most startling discovery for us. In a 2021 study, over 73% of the 33,204 participating college students reported feeling moderate to severe psychological stress. And due to the size of the study, the statistical significance here cannot be ignored. The findings here are consistent with smaller studies of the same nature, presenting a clear and cohesive narrative of the mental health conditions for college students nationwide. In fact, a 2020 Mental Health study from Cornell University, an Ivy League school, found that 40% of students said they were non-functional for at least one week of the year due to depression, stress or anxiety. Another study conducted in early 2022 found that 88% of students believed there is a mental health crisis on college campuses across the United States. The sample size here was not insignificant, as 1,700 students participated. These mental health statistics help paint a fuller picture as to what’s actually transpiring before our eyes. People are desperate, suffering in silence and fear being stigmatized, yet the government is only allowing a fraction of its budget towards the issue. It’s far to wonder why, especially because in some cases, it’s a matter of life-or-death.

STATISTIC #4: SUICIDE RATES

It’s fair to say the COVID-19 global pandemic received a ton of attention over the last couple years (and rightly so). So much attention, that at times it felt like the world stopped. Lockdowns ensued. Social distancing became a buzzword. Masks a permanent fixture in societies that had never heard of such a thing. It would probably surprise you then to hear the mortality rate of the mental health crisis rivals that of COVID-19. The latest data from WHO suggests that over 700,000 people worldwide die of suicide every 12 months.

Every 40 seconds, someone takes their own life.

Contrasted to the 6.2 million deaths reported from COVID-19 over the past 30 months, we find that the mental health crisis is at least 28% as deadly. So why is it a footnote stuck at the bottom of the government’s agenda? Before we are tempted to develop stereotypes as to the type of people that actually get to the point of suicide, consider the cases of Katie Meyer and Cheslie Kryst. Katie was on the dean’s list at Stanford University and a star goalie on the school’s soccer team. Cheslie had an MBA from Wake Forest, was a licensed attorney, won the 2019 Miss USA pageant and was nominated for two daytime Emmy awards. Both committed suicide in 2022, just a month apart. An argument could be made that they had reached heights of success in their respective spheres, considered by millennials and Generation Z for what the ideal life could look like. In both cases, their mental health battles were almost undetectable. As mentioned above, they were part of an enormous group in our society that are suffering in silence.

STATISTIC #5: COPING MECHANISMS

Suicide might be the most tragic outcome of the mental health crisis, yet the alternative outcomes are nothing to blink at. They reflect a reality in which the rest of us are just trying to keep our heads above water. To which, the mental health statistics around coping mechanisms are staggering. Our coping mechanisms come in three primary forms - medicating, distracting and indulging. Typically, we use these mechanisms to reach a positive feeling state, overlooking the harmful side effects that come from repeated usage. Medicate, a verb, means to treat a condition using a drug. So in the most traditional sense, we tend to think of antidepressants and other oral forms of medication for our mental health. Most recent CDC data revealed that 13.2% of adults in the United States are on antidepressants. This represents a 65% increase from just 20 years ago. Given the mental health statistics discussed above, this would be expected. The opioid crisis has been much-documented in the United States and in the last year alone 10.1 million people misused prescription opioids to numb their pain. But we must not limit our understanding of medication to prescription drugs, as there are other substances which we use to comfort ourselves. Namely, food. Obesity rates in the United States hit a record high in 2018, at an eye-popping rate of 42.4%. That means nearly half the population is overweight. In a 2020 report from Cambridge, which ranks among the top 10 universities worldwide, revealed: “The term ‘emotional eating’ has been widely used to refer to.. a tendency to eat in response to negative emotions with the chosen foods being primarily energy-dense and palatable ones. Emotional eating can be caused by various mechanisms, such as using eating to cope with negative emotions or confusing internal states of hunger and satiety with physiological changes related to emotions. An increasing number of prospective studies have shown that emotional eating predicts subsequent weight gain in adults.” In the West, being overweight carries a stigma because it violates the cultural standards of beauty, yet the reality is that (sometimes) it’s just another form of medication we use to cope with our mental health issues.

Who are we to elevate ourselves above others, simply because we have a different drug of choice? Our coping mechanisms can often be subtle, simply in the form of distraction. As in, never be alone with our thoughts.

In 2021, US adults spent over 13 hours per day in media consumption. It’s commonplace when we have that moment by ourselves to habitually pull out our phone, scrolling even though there isn’t anything new to see. The silence is deafening to us. Or maybe it’s simply sitting down on the couch at night and binging hours worth of shows, when this can sometimes be a distraction mechanism masking as what we call “relaxation”. The last coping mechanism, indulgence, often comes in the form of a late-night porn habit that we can’t seem to curb. In 2019, there were over 42 billion visits worldwide to one of the world’s most popular porn sites. The momentary high we get from sex, porn or hookups is commonly used in our society to numb painful emotions and reach a positive-feeling state. And while your personal opinion on the aforementioned coping mechanisms may be neutral, science would beg to differ. In hit 2021 bestseller Dopamine Nation, Stanford’s director of addiction medicine Anna Lembke writes: “We’re living in a time of unprecedented access to high-reward, high-dopamine stimuli: drugs, food, news, gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting – the increased numbers, variety and potency are staggering. The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivering digital dopamin 24/7 for a wired generation. As such, we’ve all become vulnerable to compulsive overconsumption.” Later in the book, she explains how all of these coping mechanisms are causing a severe imbalance of the pain-pleasure scale in our brains. They may provide a momentary reprieve, but in the long-term it does nothing to improve our mental health.

STATISTIC #6: ACCESSIBILITY TO HEALTHCARE

One of the biggest outrages the mental health statistics reveal is the uphill battle we face to find support for our mental health. While stigma is declining, at least in the West, there is a significant imbalance between counselors and the overall population. According to the latest statistics from WHO, Canada has 48.7 psychologists per 100,000 population, while the United States has 29.8 psychologists per 100,000. Contrast that with countries like Afghanistan, Ghana and Egypt, who have a combined average of just 0.12 psychologists per 100,000 population. Which means that if you live in one of these countries, support for your mental health is pretty much non-existent. Of course, there are multiple factors that contribute to this, including education. But these countries have also been recognized for perpetuating the stigma of mental health and do not prioritize mental health professions. On college campuses, Yale students recently expressed disappointment and anger over the lack of access to healthcare. In 2021, the Yale News wrote:

“Every student interviewed complained that the chronic understaffing of MHC (Mental Health and Counseling) has resulted in long wait times for appointments and short therapy sessions to accommodate increased demand — for those who can get appointments in the first place.”

The Clay Center for Healthy Minds reports that the ratio of certified counselors to students is 1:1000 - 2000 for small-to-midsize schools and 1:2000-3500 for larger universities. That type of ratio makes it nearly impossible for a counselor to remember your name, let alone get to know you well and give you appropriate care. It doesn’t get much better for K-12 students throughout the United States, as EdSurge reports there are just 111,000 counselors nationwide serving 50.5 million students. That makes for a 455:1 ratio.

STATISTIC #7: AFFORDABILITY OF HEALTHCARE

When considering the state of mental healthcare in the United States, we must not only look at accessibility, but affordability. As we move past the absurdly imbalanced ratio of counselors to people, we find that costs are sky-high for those that do seek counseling. A large contributing factor to this is that many counselors don’t take insurance. A recent Harvard Medical School article explains, “a much larger proportion accept only a very limited set of plans, making it extremely difficult for patients to find suitable, in-network referrals.” “If you ask a patient to describe their experience finding a therapist or psychiatrist in the community, don’t be surprised if ‘expensive,’ ‘difficult,’ and ‘discouraging’ are some of the first words that come to mind,” they add. So whose fault is this? The same governments that have decided to allocate a minuscule amount of healthcare spending towards mental health. Conditions are made nearly impossible for psychotherapists and psychiatrists. The system is currently set up in such a way that is highly discouraging for therapists to take insurance. And even if they do, it’s exceedingly difficult to get “in-network” access for insurance providers. And even if they make it past THAT step, it’s likely they will drown in paperwork. “Many psychotherapists and psychiatrists received such poor coverage and reimbursement with most health plans that clinicians abstained from a payer system that neglected them and their services, setting a precedent for cash pay practices instead,” Harvard explains.

Out-of-pocket costs for therapy range anywhere from $65/hour all the way up to $450/hour for specialists, which is needed for conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). So basically, this might cost you a small fortune to simply see a therapist once a week.

Let’s do some math. There’s 672 hours in a month. Let’s say we sleep 8 hours a day, which would cover an additional 224 hours. That leaves us with 448 hours left. Here’s the equation: 4 hours a month / 448 hours we are awake = .008% This is the reality we are living in. Pay enormous out-of-pocket costs to receive counseling support for less than 1% of our waking hours. Not the most encouraging mental health statistics. This simply doesn’t cut it and doesn’t even come close to meeting the needs of a mental health pandemic. Consider those with clinical depression or those experiencing suicidal ideation, which is no small amount. It may cost a small salary to simply keep up with the costs, in addition to all of our other regular living expenses.

STATISTIC #8: QUALITY OF HEALTHCARE

For the amount of widespread mental health issues that exist, a case could be made that many of us could use several hours of talk therapy a week. There is so much to cover, because we are complex beings with unique stories and we need people consistently in our corner. This is an important thought to consider as we arrive at our final mental health statistic, which zeroes in on the actual quality of our mental healthcare. A 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine found that “recent data indicate that less than half of patients with publicly funded insurance get adequate follow‐up after mental health hospitalization.” This is startling. How is it possible that less than 50% of those who have experienced the tragic depths of suffering, hospitalized for their mental health, didn’t receive bare minimum follow up? Additionally, in many scenarios we find that ineffective therapists will misdiagnose certain conditions or not be able to recognize a condition is present in the first place. It’s no wonder why Harvard is proposing a full-scale paradigm shift of our mental health care system. In many ways, we too have personally experienced the unfortunate paradox that exists when it comes to mental healthcare. Multiple members of our Mighty Pursuit team have been clinically diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The gold standard of therapy for OCD is ERP (exposure-and-response therapy). The average specialist for this costs north of $200/hour, which doesn’t even necessarily mean they are highly skilled at what they’re doing. The most effective psychologists in this area usually have waitlists that are 3+ months long. And if you do happen to land on their schedule, you’re getting a fraction of their time, neatly slotted in-between a rolodex of clients. It’s not uncommon for your therapist to see 6-7 other people the same day they see you. Can you imagine the emotional load that takes on a person? Additionally, outside of your session it’s highly unlikely they are putting in significant time reviewing and strategizing for your case. How could they? There’s no time. Yet that’s what we need. Finding a good therapist and quality mental healthcare shouldn’t be like finding a needle-in-a-haystack. But that’s the reality of the mental healthcare system not only in the United States, but in many other parts of the world. These mental health statistics maybe discouraging, but luckily, this is not our only solution moving forward.

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MOVING FORWARD, WHAT CAN WE DO?

As we reflect back on each of these eight mental health statistics, it’s hard not to feel frustrated, disappointed and hopeless. It’s hard not to wonder, why isn’t the government doing more? Certainly, these statistics paint a grim picture of an unfortunate reality. When it comes to mental health, the odds are stacked against us. Despite this, there are significant reasons to hold onto hope. You can get better. We can get better as a people and as a society at tackling mental health issues. The despair does not have to last forever and a future exists where we can be holistically healthy. As we pen the final words of this blog, we want to leave you with seven practicals to help guide your mental health journey.

Consider your worldview

This might sound like an unusual place to start a mental health conversation, but it’s actually the single most important factor we have to consider as we move forward. What we believe and how we make sense of reality plays a significant role in the state of our mental health. Every human operates from a place of believing a certain set of narratives about the world and this in turn, shapes how we experience reality. Why are we here? Why do we exist? What’s the purpose of life? Does God exist? As we start from an existential place and pursue existential answers, everything else follows. For example, on a macro level, if we are consumed with pursuing the cultural standard of beauty or becoming super successful, admired amongst our peers, then the way in which we order our lives will revolve around those things. If you subscribe to the cultural adage of our day, to live your own truth, then that will influence how you experience reality. If you operate from a place of truly believing you are not good enough, for whatever reasons, then that will influence how you interact with the world. When Jesus walked the Earth, he presented a cohesive narrative of how the world works. As perhaps the most famous figure in all of human history, we are invited to consider the cosmic implications Jesus has on our existence.

Join a community

It’s no secret that loneliness is a big part of the mental health pandemic. All of us, in some regard, are experiencing loneliness. And it makes sense, because we’re wired for connection. In his book Social, Neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman explains that when our brains are not occupied by a task, our default networks are wired to think about other people. “In essence our brains are built thinking about the social world and our place in it,” Lieberman writes. Which goes to say, there is extensive research on the positive effects that quality relationships can have on our mental health. “Having nurturing relationships is protective of mental health and overall brain health," says Dr. Jennifer Gatchel, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.” One could make a case that the radically individualistic culture of the United States is unnatural, based on how humans are wired. For much of human history, you were born into a group. Up until present day, every society that existed throughout time adopted what we would call a “strong-group mentality”. You were part of the pack, but you didn’t come first. The group did. So people consistently made self-sacrificial choices for the betterment of the group. In some countries, this mentality still exists today. You can see it vividly on display in the midst of the war between Ukraine and Russia. Ukranians sacrificed their lives to fight on behalf of their country, which essentially is a very large group of people. They have put the group’s interests ahead of their own personal interests, to fight for something bigger than themselves. Naturally, nurturing relationships are made possible within that group. Perhaps there is no greater example of this than the early church during the first three centuries. Solidarity, sacrificial love, compassion, honor, attentiveness and fierce commitment to one another captivated the ancient world. In his 2013 bestseller When the Church Was a Family, author Joseph Hellerman outlines four strong-group values Jesus established amongst his people, “1) we share our stuff with each other 2) we share our hearts with one another 3) we stay, embrace the pain and grow up with one another 4) Family is about more than me, my wife and kids.” You might be thinking.. that all sounds great, but how do I actually find a community? To make this possible for you, we’ve partnered with communities across the globe who are practicing the way of Jesus, starting with nine of the major U.S. cities. Simply start by searching for your city. If you don’t see your city available, we’ll be expanding in the near future, namely to London and Los Angeles. But for now, if you do live in one of those cities, jump in. There are events going on near you, everyday. Get involved. Fuel your need for connection.

Learn to be vulnerable

Sometimes, when we first meet people, we hit it off immediately. Other times, there are awkward first impressions. Regardless, once you get past the initial stage of building a relationship, the goal is always to learn to be vulnerable. It’s not enough to just be a part of a community, but you have to share your life with them. And vice-versa. This might seem counterintuitive, because we live in a culture of masks, especially with the advent of social media. But our deepest desire is actually to be vulnerable. In her famous 2011 TED Talk, researcher Brene Brown talked about the power of vulnerability. She outlined how vulnerability has the potential to transform a society. Yes, therapists and counselors serve multiple needs. But part of the reason we’re in desperate need of them is because we need someone to talk to. We need a space to be vulnerable. Historically, this is something the strong-group culture would tend to. But we’ve become increasingly reliant on professionals due to the absence of nurturing relationships. Few outline our deepest needs as succinctly as the apostle Paul, one of Jesus’s original followers. In his letter to the Corinthians, he writes: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Later, to the Galatians, he speaks to the mandate of “bearing one another’s burdens”. If we’re going to eradicate loneliness and improve our mental health, this radical solidarity and deep sense of care is exactly what we need.

Educate yourself

If we are to wage war in the battle for mental health, it will require us to become educated on the subject, from all different angles and perspectives. Here are a few ways we can do that: 
  1. Identify the underlying causes of mental illness. By our estimation, there are at least six, including genetics, environmental, digital, circumstantial, ideological and existential.
  2. Learn about the unique challenges of each individual. Not everyone’s battle with mental health is the same. Issues can manifest in a variety of ways, which requires compassion on our part for each sufferer. Educate yourself about the different disorders that exist.
  3. Recognize that change is possible: Neuroplasticity is a fascinating scientific discovery made over the last half-century, which gives us hope for the physical, structural changes the brain can make when our mental health improves.
 Of course, education is not limited to these things. Your learning journey will go far beyond understanding the mental health statistics and these topics, but they represent a good starting point.

Identify your coping mechanisms

As we mentioned earlier in the blog, while coping mechanisms can feel good in the moment, they ultimately contribute to our undoing. Which goes to say, your coping mechanisms might be obvious to you. Or they may not be and you have to embark on a discovery process to identify them. Awareness is the first step. Once we are aware, coming up with a game plan to tackle these in the context of community will go a long way towards improving our mental health. If we don’t take these steps, we run the risk of frying the pain-pleasure balance in our brains. As Dr. Lembke explains later in her book Dopamine Nation, the more time that passes, the greater dosage we’ll need to achieve the same high we got previously. This principle is the same across the board, whether we’re talking about porn, opioids, binge eating, alcohol or digital distraction.

Become an activist

If we are going to help create change in the way our government’s approach mental health, then we need to use our voices. Don’t let knowledge stop there, just knowledge. Put that knowledge into motion. Keep up to date with what political candidates are saying about the subject. Use your platform to educate others about government spending in addition to healthcare accessibility, affordability and quality. Together, we can create change, remembering that every great movement started with just a few voices. We can’t be complacent and satisfied with the status quo. Our refusal to stay silent today will open up avenues of healing for people tomorrow.

Hold out hope

Finally, do not lose our hope to find the right counselor. We intentionally left this last, because there is so much we can do before even considering this step. But make no mistake, this is still an important part of the equation. Despite the challenges that persist, therapists and psychologists are still uniquely trained to support the specifics of what we're dealing with. Therapy can certainly be transformative. And despite the high stakes financially, it’s worth the investment into your health. We cannot wait for the government to change its processes to invest in our well-being. We must begin that journey today.

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