Mental Health in Western North Carolina

Why is Mental Health a key health issue in western North Carolina?

Mental Health includes one’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It often affects how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices in our everyday life (Mental Health, 2022). In WNC there has been a steady increase in the percent of adults reporting that they are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with life, which rose from 5% in 2015 to 10% in 2021 (WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021).

What do the numbers say about mental health?

Western North Carolina (WNC) Data:

  • Approximately 10% of adults in WNC are dissatisfied with life. The following adult populations were significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with life in 2021:
    • Very low income (23.6%) or low income (14.9%)
    • Those identifying as Black (14.7%) or American Indian/Alaska Native, Indigenous (14.4%)

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021)

Differences in health outcomes across social groups, economic status, and racial/ethnic identity are closely linked with disparities in social determinants of health, which disproportionately burden individuals and communities who experience systemic disadvantage and/or discrimination. See our data story on the Social Determinants of Health to learn more about how the conditions in which people are born, live, work, play, learn, worship, and age can influence their ability to achieve good health for themselves and their families.

Percent of Adults in WNC Dissatisfied with Life per County, by Year

Source: WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2012-2021

Survey Question: In general, how satisfied are you with your life? (Very Satisfied; Satisfied; Dissatisfied; or Very Dissatisfied) “Dissatisfied” includes those who answered with dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

Poor Mental Health Days

The percent of adults in WNC reporting greater than 7 days of poor mental health in the past month has risen from 13% in 2015 to 22% in 2021.

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021)

Percent with More than 7 Days of Poor Mental Health in the Last Month, by Year

Source: WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2012-2021

Suicidal Ideation

As of 2021, 7.8% of adults in Western North Carolina indicated having thoughts within the past year of taking their own life.

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021)

Percent Having Considered Suicide in the Past Year by County, 2021

Source: WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2012-2021

Access to Mental Healthcare and Counseling

The percent of adults in WNC reporting that they did not get the mental health care or counseling that they needed in the past year has risen from 9.1% in 2015 to 10.6% in 2021.

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021)

Unable to Get Needed Medical Care per County, by Year

WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey 2012-2021

Survey Question: Was there a time in the past 12 months when you needed mental health care or counseling, but did not get it at that time?

Receiving Treatment

As of 2021, 24.8% of Western North Carolina needing Mental Health treatment are now receiving treatment, therapy, or counseling from a healthcare professional. This is significantly higher than the national average of people receiving mental health treatment at 16.8%.

(WNCHN – WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021)

Percent Currently Taking Medication or Receiving Treatment for Mental Health by County, 2021

Source: WNC Healthy Impact Community Health Survey, 2021

Survey Question: Are you NOW taking medication or receiving treatment, therapy, or counseling from a health professional for any type of mental or emotional health need?

State and National Findings:

Between September 29th and October 11th, 2021, 35% of North Carolina Residents reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders. In the United States, during this time, 31.6% report anxiety and/or depressive disorders.

(KFF, 2021)

In 2020, 12.1 million adults had suicidal thoughts.

(Mental Health America, 2022)

In 2020, $280 billion dollars was spent on mental health services.

(White, 2022)

Between 2018 and 2019, 3.9% of North Carolina adults had serious thoughts of suicide within the past year.

(KFF, 2021)

What did the region say is the story behind the mental health numbers?

The items below are paraphrased themes that emerged from a 2021 regional survey of key informants. These responses do not necessarily:

  • Reflect accurate or scientifically validated information about health determinants, outcomes, and/or strategies for change.
  • Represent an exhaustive list of factors that can help or hurt efforts to address this key regional health issue.

(WNCHN – Online Key Informant Survey, 2021)

The information in this section should be interpreted and used with care. It should be used only to help local health departments and agencies begin to understand community perceptions about local health issues. Communities are strongly encouraged to collect their own, local-level data to inform local planning and evaluation activities.

What’s Helping?

  • Increased awareness
  • Increased access to affordable mental health services
  • Family/Community Support
  • Professionals more educated on mental health needs
  • Increased collaboration between agencies

What’s Hurting?

  • Not enough public education
  • Rural areas have increased isolation and travel times
  • Stigma
  • Limited Funding
  • Not enough treatment centers/providers in some areas

What we are hearing:

“Access to mental health resources is improving and social emotional learning is being valued and implemented by more organizations and institutions.”

“Public health, social health, and mental health are major components that are all essential for the health and well being of the family and the community.”

“One of the primary silver linings is the renewed focus and normalization of social-emotional and mental health needs of our community. There has been a shift even within schools to elevate the instruction and support of social emotional learning that is both encouraging and hopeful.”

How is the region prioritizing this issue?

The western North Carolina region includes 17 communities: 16 counties and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI)

In the 2021 CHA cycle, 11 communities chose a priority related to mental health.

What is already happening regionally?