Trends in psychological distress, depressive episodes and mental health treatment-seeking in the United States: 2001-2012

J Affect Disord. 2015 Mar 15:174:556-61. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.12.039. Epub 2014 Dec 18.


Background: There has been an increase in the use of mental health services in a number of industrialized countries over the past two decades with little impact on mental health status of the populations. Few studies, however, have examined recent trends in mental health status in the US.

Methods: Using data from three large general annual population surveys in the US-the National Health Interview Survey, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and National Survey on Drug Use and Health-we examined temporal trends in non-specific psychological distress, depressive episodes and mental health treatment seeking over the 2001-2012 period.

Results: Prevalence of past-month significant psychological distress and past-year depressive symptoms changed little over time. However, a larger percentage of participants reported poor mental health for ≥15 days or 30 days in the past month in 2011-2012 (8.7% and 5.7%, respectively) than in 2001-2002 (6.6% and 4.6%). A larger percentage of participants in the later period also reported receiving mental health treatments.

Limitations: Possible changes in mental health status may have been missed due to the limited scope of assessments or the small magnitude of changes. Potential reciprocal influences between service use and mental health status could not be investigated because of cross-sectional data.

Conclusions: Despite increasing use of mental health treatments in the US in the first decade of this century, there is no evidence of decrease in prevalence of psychological distress or depression. Poor match between need for treatment and actual treatments received in usual care settings may partly explain the findings.

Keywords: Community prevalence of depression; Treatment effectiveness; Treatment seeking; Trends in psychological distress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Mental Health Services / trends*
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Stress, Psychological / epidemiology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult