What 5 States Rank Last for Mental Health?

Between a pandemic, rising gas prices, gun violence, political conflict, a war in the Ukraine, and an overdose epidemic, there seems to be no end to the polarization and stress. That begs the question: What’s the “State of the Union” regarding Americans’ mental health? 

Not good, according to a March 2022 “Fact Sheet” from the White House: “Our country faces an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages,” it read, stating (among other statistics) that two out of five adults face anxiety and depression.

Still, some states are doing better than others with respect to mental health. Consider, for example, the latest 2021 information regarding which states rank lowest for mental health and why…

What Criteria Determine a State’s Mental Health Ranking?

That’s a great question, one that the non-profit group Mental Health America (MHA) has answered scientifically. Every year, MHA releases its “State of Mental Health Report,” which ranks all 51 states according to these measures:

  • (Number of) adults with any mental illness
  • (Number of) adults with substance use disorder in the past year
  • Adults with serious thoughts of suicide
  • Youth with At Least one Major Depressive Episode (MDE) in the Past Year
  • Youth with Substance Use Disorder in the Past Year
  • Youth with Severe MDE
  • Adults with any mental illness who did not receive treatment
  • Adults with any mental illness reporting unmet need
  • Adults with any mental illness who are uninsured
  • Adults with Cognitive Disability who Could Not See a Doctor Due to Costs
  • Youth with MDE who Did Not Receive Mental Health Services
  • Youth with Severe MDE who Received Some Consistent Treatment
  • Children with Private Insurance that Did Not Cover Mental or Emotional Problems
  • Students Identified with Emotional Disturbance for an Individualized Education Program
  • Mental Health Workforce Availability

Once the scores of these measures are all combined, a low final score means lower rates of mental illness and better access to care. A high final score, though, means a higher prevalence of mental illness, coupled with poorer access to care.

The 5 States That Came in Last Overall?

What five states ranked lowest overall in 2021? 

#47 – Colorado ranked fifth from last. The main reason, according to a report by a local Fox station: Colorado has the highest percentage of people in the nation with a substance abuse problem. (That can do it.)

#48 – Oregon has been ranked near the bottom of MHA’s list since at least 2017. That’s when a report by the local affiliate KGW8, citing MHA as the source, said of Oregon, “We have some of the worst rates for homelessness, high school graduations, and child abuse. It all contributes to mental illness.” Could these factors still help to explain Oregon’s poor mental health ranking? Yes, maybe.

#49 – Alaska has “a very low number of psychiatric hospital beds, compared to the U.S. average,” and “the hospitalization rate of patients with serious mental illness is very high compared to other hospitalizations,” the report “The Cost of Mental Illness: Alaska Facts and Figures” said.

#50 – Idaho, home to Yellowstone National Park, is also ranked second-to-last for mental health, according to MHA. Part of the explanation may be a shortage in psychiatrists and mental health professionals.

#51 – Nevada has the worst ranking for youth mental health. It’s also a Mountain state. Mountain states tend to have higher rates of mental illness and lower rates of access to care, a local news affiliate reported in 2021.

One implication of these findings? That where you live can affect your mental health in potentially drastic ways. 

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