10 Most Depressing States in the U.S.
States of mind
That said, mental distress is unusually and persistently common in some states, whether due to economic troubles, lack of access to health care, or other factors.
Using data from federal health agencies, Health.com has identified the 10 states with the highest rates of depression, psychological distress, and other indicators of poor mental health. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Young Arkansans have a dedicated advocate in their corner, however. The state’s first lady, Ginger Beebe, has taken up mental health care for young people as a cause. In 2007, Beebewho lost a son-in-law and a friend to suicidewent on a “listening tour,” in which she talked with families who have been affected by mental illness. “They have such courage and they go through so many struggles,” Beebe told the Associated Press (AP).
Due to budget pressures, many community mental-health centers have closed or downsized in recent years, and the state is facing a shortage of psychiatrists. “This is happening all over the country,” Indiana University psychiatrist Alan Schmetzer, MD, told the South Bend Tribune in 2010. “(But) the Midwest in particular is very short of psychiatrists.”
Poor mental health in Kentucky is part of a constellation of social problems that includes high joblessness and drug abuse. “When people don’t have good jobs to support families, I think that leads to depression and anxiety, which in turn leads to substance abuse,” Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear told the AP in 2008.
The most recent government data, from 2009, may not even do justice to the true psychological fallout from the state’s misfortunes. “When people are under those kinds of stresses, the need for mental health care escalates,” the director of a state social-work organization told the Holland Sentinel in 2009. "What we’re seeing, anecdotally, is an increase in the need for substance abuse services and depression."
Indeed, the state’s many health problems may feed one another. "Depression can both precipitate and exacerbate the symptoms of a chronic disease," Lela McKnight-Eily, PhD, a clinical psychologist and epidemiologist at the CDC, told Health.com in 2010.
Missouri isn’t at the bottom of the barrel in any one measure of mental health, but it gets very low marks in several areas, including the rate of serious psychological distress (13%).
Fortunately for residents, the Show-Me State has had a proactive approach to preventing and treating mental-health problems. In 2008 it began a pilot program to integrate primary care and mental health care, and it was the first state in the U.S. to implement Mental Health First Aid, a program that trains teachers, policemen, and other nonspecialists to recognize the symptoms of mental illness and offer help.
These problems may get worse before they get better. Nevada has been especially hard hit by the financial crisis, and thanks to the poor economy and declining tax revenues, the state department that oversees mental-health services is facing budget cuts in the tens of millions of dollars.
Even the official state rock song is depressing. In 2009, the Oklahoma legislature bestowed that honor on "Do You Realize?" by the Flaming Lips; it's a dirge-like tune featuring lyrics such as "Do you realize that happiness makes you cry? Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?"
Like Mississippi, Tennessee also has high rates of chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, the stress of which can worsen depression. As many as 70% of Tennesseans who see a primary care physician for obesity, diabetes, or hypertension meet the criteria for depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders, the state’s mental health commissioner has estimated.
One reason may be that roughly two-thirds of West Virginians live in rural areas, where both steady jobs and access to mental health care can be hard to come by. A 2000 study found that while nearly 1 in 3 residents living in rural areas had "a high level" of depression symptoms, almost half had never been treated for the condition by any doctor, let alone a psychiatrist or mental-health specialist.