As we sift through the data collected by our summer intern Maria Mongiardo, we want to take a moment to share the results.
The online survey created by our summer intern reached approximately eight hundred residents of Massachusetts and beyond was designed to capture participants’ attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to mental health. We hope to use the information below to tailor our efforts to the unique context of our communities, and assess the effectiveness of our programs.
- Over half of the respondents to our survey reported having a mental health diagnosis. 97% of participants reported that someone in their life was affected by mental illness, and 80% reported a family history of mental illness.
- Fortunately, 87% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported accessing support for their concerns. However, accessing support is not so straightforward. A startling 76% of participants have experienced barriers to getting the help that they need, including the fear of shame or stigma, not being taken seriously, and trouble finding a professional. While we respect the resilience of those who get support despite the difficulty, it should not be so hard.
- Though respondents’ attitudes, beliefs, and demographic factors showed some variation, one question almost earned a unanimous positive response. 97% “wish there was more mental health awareness/services in [their] school or school district.”
- Luckily, a majority of the participants already knew some important truths about mental health. Over half of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that most mental illnesses are treatable, and 94% agreed or strongly agreed that people with mental health diagnoses can live productive lives. 98% of participants agreed or strongly agreed that it is important to learn about mental illness.
- One item of the survey asked, “If I had a mental illness, I would not tell any of my friends or family.” About 27% of our participants reported they were unsure if they would tell, but 19% agreed or strongly agreed that if they were diagnosed, they would not share that diagnosis with a single person in their life. Many of our peer mentors describe in their stories exactly how important it was for them to reach out and find someone in their lives who could talk about mental health. Whether it was a parent, a close friend, or a sibling, many of us can not imagine recovery without the support of a loved one.
Why wouldn’t they reach out? We don’t know for certain, but it probably relates to the 30% of participants who agreed or strongly agreed that they would feel embarrassed or ashamed to tell someone that they had a mental health diagnosis.
We are already fighting to reduce this 19% on two fronts; by telling our own stories of connection and by educating others on how to be a support to those experiencing mental health challenges.
- Now compare our answers to a similar question, “If any friends or family of mine had a mental illness, I would tell them not to tell anyone.” How did our respondents predict they would support a friend who struggling? Less than 6% agreed or strongly agreed that they would advise their peers to stay silent, and 75% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this course of action.
Our participants were three times more likely not to tell anyone about their own mental health than they were to tell a friend or family member to do the same. The responses on how to handle one’s own mental health crisis were scattered, and no level of agreement reached a majority. However, when asked to think about a loved one in the same situation, three quarters of our participants knew they couldn’t ask their loved one to keep it hidden. Our participants wouldn’t shame their friends or family, but would feel shame if they themselves were in the same place. This is the power of stigma, of our tendency to see mental health challenges as personal weaknesses, especially in ourselves.
- Just over half of our sample agreed or strongly agreed that they would use mental health services if they were provided by their school or employer.
Attitudes, Beliefs and Age
Because our Peer-to-Peer model is based on shared experience/assumptions/culture of an age group – do different generations hold different beliefs about mental health? For the purposes of our analysis, we split the sample into two age groups; below 25 years of age, and above.
When asked to rate their current mental health, 80% of adults over 25 reported their mental health as “Good,” “Very Good,” or “Excellent.” In comparison, only 22% of the under 25 age group reported “Good,” “Very Good” or “Excellent.” The most common response, 41% of the under 25 age group reported having poor mental health.
When asked about their ability to access emotional support, both age groups felt confident that they knew someone who could help. An encouraging 90% of adults over 25 reported that they knew someone who could help them if they needed emotional support, but only 76% of the under 25% group.
A greater percentage of young adults reported having faced barriers accessing mental health services, compared to just half of the over 25 age group.
Younger than 25 age group more likely to be unsure if they agreed or disagreed with biological basis of mental illness, parents to blame. The younger age group answered that they were unsure if Masschusetts and Massachusetts public schools provided enough support to those with mental health challenges about twice as often as the older group reported being unsure.
This paints a picture of the young adults we surveyed – reporting poorer mental health, fewer supports, less sure about the truths which may destigmatize mental health, and facing more barriers to receiving the help they need.
Attitudes, Beliefs, and Diagnosis
Because over half of sample identified as having a mental health diagnosis, we have the opportunity to compare the attitudes towards mental health of those with and without a diagnosis. Unfortunately, 76% of those with a mental health diagnosis reported facing barriers to receiving mental health services. Approximately 65% of those who reported a mental health diagnosis agreed or strongly agreed that they would use mental health services provided by their employer or school in times of mental health challenges.