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What is the State of Virginia’s Mental Health?

Written by Bruce Cruser

Bruce Cruser has been Executive Director of Mental Health Virginia since 2016, bringing a background in social work and community corrections, and many years of leadership experience in local and state government.

October 13, 2022

Youth Rankings a Great Concern

Mental Health America (MHA) has released the State of Mental Health in America report for 2023, which ranks all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 15 behavioral health and access measures.

This year’s data cannot be compared to previous rankings because the national surveillance data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration was severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the rankings still give an accurate snapshot of mental health at a point in time.

  • 21% of adults in the U.S., equivalent to 50 million Americans, are experiencing a mental illness.
  • Over half of those with a mental illness received no treatment, with access and cost as the primary reasons.
  • More than 12.1 million adults reported serious thoughts of suicide. That’s nearly 5% of the entire U.S. population.
  • Over 60% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.

Virginia ranks near the bottom in youth mental health. Virginia rankings include:

  • 38th overall among all the states for youth and adults combined.
  • 14th best in the overall adult ranking.
  • 48th in overall youth rankings. Virginia’s youth mental health ranking is better than only Nebraska, Kansas, and Oregon.
    • 45th in youth with severe Major Depressive Episodes.
    • 60% of Virginia youth who experienced a Major Depressive Episode did not receive treatment.  This was slightly better than 15 other states, as the lack of treatment is a major problem across the country.
  • 34th in overall access to care for youth and adults, a slight improvement from 37th compared to other states. This ranking includes access to insurance, access to treatment, quality and cost of insurance, access to special education, and workforce availability. A low Access Ranking indicates that a state provides relatively less access to mental health treatment.  
  • 48th in youth with private insurance that did not cover mental or emotional problems.
  • 10th in the percentage of adults with any mental illness who are uninsured, but 39th among all states in adults with a mental illness who reported they were not able to receive the treatment they needed.
  • 39th in access to a trained mental health workforce. The lack of a sufficient workforce of mental health professionals is a problem in most of the country, and since MHA’s report began 9 years ago, Virginia is consistently near the bottom in this report.

Although not a surprise, Virginia’s poor rankings in youth mental health are particularly disturbing. Waiting times for youth psychiatric care have been a serious problem since before the pandemic when they reached crisis levels. Hospital emergency admissions of children and youth for self-harm have increased dramatically over the past few years. Mental health challenges are worse for youth facing discrimination based on racial, ethnic or gender identity.  

Multiple efforts are underway to bring better access to timely, affordable and effective community care for both youth and adults in Virginia. Initial steps to provide school-based mental health care are encouraging, and the U.S. Department of Education just released grant opportunities for localities to provide school mental health services. But the need is great and requires massive state investments soon to protect our children. Stakeholders, local and state government, legislators and the public should treat the state of our mental health with urgency.

MHA gathers the most current data in 15 measures reported by the states and available to the public. Most of the data in this report are from the 2019-2020 SAMHSA national survey, and the pandemic had a serious impact on the ability to collect data in 2020. As a result, the indicators in this year’s report cannot be compared to previous years. However, one can compare states within this year’s rankings to each other.

State of Mental Health in America 

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