Clinicians, researchers and policymakers now have a more complete picture about the mental health problems and progress in their states, thanks to the “Behavioral Health Barometer,” a new resource from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The barometer includes state and national data on rates of mental illness, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse over time, allowing states to direct resources where they are needed most. 

“If you’re a planner or policymaker, it’s important to know where your state sits and where it’s moving so you can think about what you want to do to address it,” says Rear Admiral Peter Delany, PhD, who directs SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Clinicians, too, can use the information to better understand their clients’ conditions in the context of their community and state, he says. 

For example, the national barometer indicates that the rate of major depressive episodes among Hispanic adults has increased from 2.5 percent in 2011 to 3.5 percent in 2012, suggesting that more needs to be done to address mental health disparities. Eighteen- to 25-year olds, too, are a population at risk when it comes to alcohol dependence: 14.3 percent of those surveyed were dependent on or abused alcohol in 2012, according to the barometer. 

On the upside, more Americans appear to be receiving the mental health treatment they need. 

For example, 1.25 million Americans were enrolled in substance use treatment in 2012, an increase from 1.19 million in 2008, the barometer reports. The shift may reflect a decreasing stigma for mental health treatment and greater access to care. 

The barometer is based on various federal surveys and data from SAMHSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“Like all research, [the barometer] allows planners and policy-makers and researchers and providers to say, ‘Maybe I want to target something in a way I haven’t thought about before,’” Delany says. 

To read the report, go to SAMHSA

— Anna Miller