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Arlington, VA — Young adults with a mood disorder are having a much harder time than adults when it comes to addressing their mental health, according to new analysis of national survey data. The 2021 Mood Disorder Survey was conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Younger adults (18–34) experience greater concerns about the judgment and stigma they may experience from seeking out treatment. When they do seek out treatment, they have greater difficulty in accessing affordable, professional care.
“Many people develop mood disorders as young adults, at a time of life when they are juggling living on their own, launching careers and starting families,” said NAMI Chief Medical Officer Ken Duckworth, M.D. “They are often profoundly sensitive to the shame of mental illness, have unrealistic ideas about treatment options and are blindsided by the cost of care, which can be a significant barrier.”
The survey, intended to understand the impact of mood disorders, included three audiences: those who have been diagnosed with a mood disorder, caregivers to those who have been diagnosed with a mood disorder and those with no experience with these conditions.
Poorer mental health: Findings revealed that younger adults (ages 18–34) with a variety of mood disorders — bipolar, major depressive disorder and depression — reported greater negative impacts from living with these conditions, and poorer overall mental health, than their older counterparts. Nearly half (49%) of respondents aged 18–34 described their mental health as fair or poor, a larger percentage than those aged 35–64 (40%) or those 65 and over (37%).
Difficulties accessing affordable treatment: More than two-thirds of those aged 18–34 (68%) reported that, despite being open to getting treatment, there was a time when they couldn’t get it — significantly more than their older counterparts (54% among those ages 35–64 and 37% among those 65 and over).
Battling stigma: Young adults also experienced the greatest fear of stigma and judgment from family and friends. While stigma is a barrier to care for people of all ages, 38% of respondents aged 18–24 who had gone without mental health treatment when they wanted it say fear of judgment prevented them from seeking help, compared to 23% of those aged 35–64 and 19% of those aged 65 and over.
Burden of mood disorders: While a majority of respondents of all ages (84%) reported negative impacts as a result of having a mood disorder, respondents aged 18–24 were more likely than any other age group to report experiencing difficulties at 93%.
“We commissioned this important survey during the pandemic to get a clearer understanding of how different communities are faring — including young adults experiencing emotional distress,” said NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison Jr. “Young people have always been acutely affected by barriers to care, including fears of being judged and stigmatized. The data points underscore how far we have to go to reach people with a message that there are effective, outpatient therapeutic interventions and talk therapies that can be life-changing.”
Additional information about the mood-disorder survey — which includes a broader focus on cost, access and other barriers to care, as well as widely held misperceptions about mood disorders — and our methodology is available on the NAMI website. Further information on mental health and youth and young adults is available here.
Download NAMI's infographic: "Break the Silence on Mood Disorders — Countering Stigma Experienced by Young Adults with Openness & Understanding."
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