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Mental Health Rates and Healthy People 2020


The Healthy People 2020 initiative states major goals for improving the health of Americans and tracks progress in achieving these goals. The measurements are performed based on 26 leading health indicators (LHI) divided into 12 topics. One of the significant aspects of the initiative is regular reporting on the indicators’ dynamics. There are four categories of these dynamics: “target met,” “improving,” “little or no detectable change,” and “getting worse” (Healthy People 2020, 2014).

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Indicators in the latter two categories draw particular attention from professionals and researchers. If there are no improvements in a certain health issue, it is important to identify the challenge and find ways to address it. One of the topics is mental health. The two LHI under this topic is the suicide rate and the adolescents with major depressive episodes (MDE) rate. Both indicators have shown negative dynamics since 2006, which means that they are moving away from the goal set to be achieved by 2020. Summarizing the indicators and discussing data sources can help explain the lack of progress in meeting the national objectives in terms of mental health.


Mental health indicators are tracked under the Healthy People initiative because it is acknowledged that mental challenges and disorders are a daunting problem in the USA. For decades, mental disorders have been one of the “most common causes of disabilities [in the United States]” (Mental health, 2014, p. 2). Therefore, to ensure that the health of the nation is improved, it is important to address the issues of mental health. Both LHI under the topic of mental health has been moving away from the Healthy People 2020 target within recent years. Within the period from 2006 to 2010, the suicide rate went up from 113 per 1 million to 121.

The Healthy People objective is to decrease the rate to 102 per 1 million. According to the report, among those who committed suicide in 2010, there were almost four times as many men as women. The other indicator, adolescents with MDE, went up from 8.3 percent to 9.1 percent. The indicator shows how many Americans aged 12 to 17 reported having had MDE within one year prior to the survey. The Healthy People target is 7.5 percent (Mental health, 2014). It can be calculated that, in order to meet the 2020 objective, the suicide rate should become 15.7 percent lower, and the adolescents having experienced MDE should become 17.6 percent lower.

The Healthy People 2020 initiative tracking is based on primary data acquired from national surveys and censuses. The mental health indicators—the suicide rate and the adolescents with MDE rate—are calculated on the basis of the data from two statistical sources: National Vital Statistics System-Mortality (NVSS-M, conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) respectively (Mental health, 2014).

Both sources are reliable because they are certified by the U.S. Federal Statistical System and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. An important aspect of these statistical data is age adjustment because the data under the indicators may differ significantly across different age groups. The Healthy People 2020 reports consider this variation and provide age-adjusted rates.

Although it is evident from reliable sources that the indicators under the mental health topic are trending down, it is not clear why the dynamics are such. Much effort has been put into improving the mental health of Americans within recent years. For example, several campaigns have been conducted in mass media to reduce the stigmatization of mentally challenged people. There was a general expectation that raising awareness about mental disorders and discrediting myths about them publically would help improve mental health indicators.

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It can be assumed that certain factors are outweighing all the measures, initiatives, and actions aimed at decreasing the suicide rate and the MDE rate. One of such factors is stress. Stress is found to be the main cause of suicide (Lim et al., 2014). Although everyone experiences stress in his or her life, nation-wide growth of stress can only be explained by the large-scale impact. It can be assumed that technological progress and the economic situation in the world are making everyone’s life faster, less secure, and more pressing. The pace and pressure are major stress-inducing factors. If the levels of competition and uncertainty about the future are increasing, it explains the negative dynamics of the Healthy People 2020 mental health indicators.


Mental health rates are recognized as important indicators of the nation’s health and well-being. Including two LHI related to mental health in the Healthy People 2020 objectives signified that a lot of work is being done on the federal and local levels to decrease the suicide rate and the rate of MDE among adolescents. However, the rates keep growing. Since stress is the main cause of suicide and depression in the United States, achieving the Healthy People 2020 goals should be associated with measures to prevent and reduce stress among Americans.


Healthy people 2020 leading health indicators: Progress update. (2014). Web.

Lim, M., Kim, S. W., Nam, Y. Y., Moon, E., Yu, J., Lee, S.,… & Ahn, Y. M. (2014). Reasons for desiring death: Examining causative factors of suicide attempters treated in emergency rooms in Korea. Journal of affective disorders, 168(1), 349-356.

Mental health: Healthy people 2020 leading health indicators. (2014). Web.

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