Anxiety in America Still High: Top Nationwide Worries Revealed

Caroline Cassels

May 20, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO — Health, safety, and finances remain the top causes of anxiety among Americans, new national data show.

Altha Stewart, MD

Results of a nationwide survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) show about two-in-three Americans report they are extremely or somewhat anxious about keeping themselves and their family safe, paying bills, and maintaining their health.

The survey results also revealed that 32% of Americans report they are more anxious than they were last year, 43% say they are about as anxious as they were last year, and 24% say they are less anxious compared with a year ago.

"The poll results reinforce the fact that basic needs, such as personal safety or finances, have a large impact on a person's mental well-being. We urge anyone who is struggling with anxiety, regardless of the reason, to seek treatment," APA President Altha Stewart, MD, said in a statement.

The findings were released here at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2019 annual meeting.

Differences by Race, Age

Anxiety among African American and Hispanic Americans show lower anxiety in the past year, although overall anxiety levels in these population remains higher than Caucasians.

Extreme anxiety about the impact of politics on daily life dropped from 30% to 13% among African Americans and from 22% to 15% among Hispanic Americans.

Compared to last year, African Americans also showed reductions in extreme anxiety about keeping themselves and their family safe (46% to 37%) and extreme anxiety about paying bills (47% to 33%).

Younger adults are more anxious than older adults. About 70% of adults 18 to 34 years are somewhat or extremely anxious about paying bills or keeping their family safe; about 40% say they are extremely anxious about each of these aspects.

Younger adults are also more anxious than older adults about their relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. Nearly two-in-three adults age 18 to 34 years are anxious about relationships compared with about 40% of those over age 55.

Most Americans report taking some action to support their mental health and well-being. About 75% of adults report they employ one or more tactics to support their mental health.

More than half (57%) said they talk with friends and family about their worries, 22% report they receive professional help from a therapist or other mental health support, and 12% rely on a religious leader for mental health support. About 7% of all adults, including 14% of millennials, use a mental health app to support their mental health.

Stigma Still a Major Worry

While approximately 50% of American workers report they are comfortable discussing mental health issues in the workplace, more than 33% report they are concerned about consequences if they seek mental healthcare.

While most workers with benefits know how to access mental health services (70%) and are at least somewhat comfortable accessing services (62%) through their employer if needed, approximately 25% are uncertain about how to access mental healthcare through their employer.

Mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace. Just over half of workers report they are at least somewhat comfortable discussing mental health openly with coworkers and supervisors, but only 20% are completely comfortable.

Younger workers are much more likely to feel they can discuss their mental health — millennials are almost twice as likely as baby boomers to be comfortable (62% vs 32%).

A significant portion of workers, more than one in three, are concerned about job consequences — including being fired — if they seek mental healthcare. Younger men are more likely to be concerned than older men or women of any age about retaliation.

Most workers report they would recognize signs of distress in coworkers and would reach out to help. About 75% of workers believe they would recognize signs of anxiety, depression, or other mental illness among coworkers and a majority report they would reach out to a colleague exhibiting signs of mental illness.

Younger women, ages 18 to 49, are more likely (82%) and older men less likely (66%) to recognize signs in coworkers. Most people report they would help guide a troubled coworker to mental health resources. Still, about 25% report they would not know where to direct a coworker for mental health help.

"These results show both encouraging and concerning aspects of mental health in the workplace. The extent to which people are willing to reach out and help colleagues is encouraging. However, the continued hesitancy among many to talk about mental health concerns in the workplace is troubling and illustrates the ongoing stigma against mental illness. We have work to do to get to the point where people are as comfortable talking about mental health concerns as they are about physical health concerns," said Stewart.

The vast majority of American workers report their employers offer some type of mental health resources, such as an employee assistance program, mental health days, wellness programs, or on-site mental health services.

More than 60% of workers feel their employers provide sufficient mental health coverage. About a quarter (27%) report their employer does not offer sufficient coverage and 13% are unsure.

Social Media Use Concerns

Finally, the survey results reveal that social media is more detrimental than beneficial to mental health and emotional well-being.

The survey findings show that 38% believe social media use is harmful to mental health and 45% believe social media use has both a positive and negative impact on mental health. Only 5% saw social media use as entirely positive for mental health.

Two thirds of respondents (67%) agree that social media use is related to feelings of loneliness and social isolation. Millennials are more likely (73%) than baby boomers (62%) to agree with the connection between social media and loneliness.

African Americans (33%) are more likely than Caucasians (22%) or Hispanics (25%) to completely agree on this relationship between social media use and loneliness.

Across ages, gender, and ethnicities, people expressed concern about social media use among children and teens. Nearly 9-in-10 adults (88%) think social media activity among kids and teens is concerning. The level of concern was also similar among people with children and those without children.

About 1-in-7 adults (14%) use a social media app to support their mental health. Not unexpectedly, younger adults are much more likely than older adults to do so.

Nearly a quarter of millennials (24%) report they use a social media app to support their mental health, compared with only 3% of baby boomers. Hispanic Americans (27%) and African Americans (17%) are more likely than Caucasians (9%) to report using a social media app to support their mental health.

"These results reflect Americans' concern with use of social media and its potential negative impacts. While social media can have benefits and help keep us connected to friends and family, it's important for adults, and for children and teens, to balance social media use with other activities and connecting with others in real life," said Stewart.

The findings are from an APA-sponsored poll conducted online using ORC International's CARAVAN Omnibus Survey. The surveys were collected from a nationally representative sample of 1005 adults during the period April 4 - 7, 2019, and from similar polls of about 1000 adults in March 2018 and April 2017. The margin of error is +/–3.1 percentage points.

American Psychiatric Association (APA) 2019. Presented May 20, 2019.

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