The Upshot blog at the New York Times uses data to detect political trends, but it also uses data to debunk stereotypes, and this weekend the stereotypes they targeted involved mental health. And the result was a dramatic snapshot of the need for more access to treatment in the parts of the country comprised of the red states.
The piece starts with the observation that the number of Google searches for therapists and therapy is 54% higher in blue than in red states. But it isn’t because the need is higher in urban than rural areas.
• Red states have 20% higher rates of major depression than blue states.
• Red states have 30% higher rates of suicide.
• Red and blue states have roughly the same rate of use of antidepressant medication.
In looking for an explanation for the lack of interest in therapy, the author, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, notes that red states have, on average, lower incomes and a lower percentage of people covered by insurance. They have fewer mental health professionals. And he notes that 30% of Americans who have mental health problems but are not in treatment cite stigma as a factor.
His assumption is that getting pills from your GP is not only cheaper but less stigmatizing than seeking more comprehensive treatment, like one of the many forms of cognitive behavioral therapy that have been proven effective, by themselves and as an addition to medication.
The author goes to rather creative lengths to demonstrate that stigma is higher in red states than blue states. My favorite is that the celebrities more popular in blue than red states are open about therapy, including Bruce Springsteen, David Letterman, Jack Nicholson, and Howard Stern. Celebrities more popular in red states than blue are more likely to take the position popularized by Dwayne Johnson in a Facebook post: “Heavy iron fights the pain,” he wrote. “And it’s cheaper than a shrink.”
Johnson, aka The Rock, has in fact been open about the fact that he has had depresson, but he talked about “friends and family” helping him get through it. Lifting weights, not to speak of friends and family, may help, but the evidence is overwhelming that that’s not working well enough for a lot of people. Real men (and women) need real mental health treatment, and expanding access to therapies that work to should be a high priority.