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Gen Xers and Baby Boomers Experiencing a Surge in Serious Mental Distress

Gen Xers and Baby Boomers Experiencing a Surge in Serious Mental Distress

Are middle-aged Americans more prone to mental illness and suicide than before?

Middle-aged adults between 45 and 59, a group that includes members of Generation X and the Baby Boom generation, may be at higher risk for for serious psychological distress and suicide than previously thought. “Serious psychological distress” is a category that covers a broad range of mental health issues severe enough to require treatment, like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

Over 8.3 million American adults experienced this level of mental distress in 2014, according to a 2017 study published in Psychiatric Services. When compared to people who were not mentally ill, these adults were:

  • Three times more likely to be unable to pay for health care services like talk therapy
  • 10 times more likely to be unable to cover medication costs

Most surprisingly, the study reveals a surge in untreated mental illness among middle-aged adults, who had not been considered a high-risk group before.

Researchers cite the 2008 economic recession as one factor that might have contributed to this trend. Due to the Great Recession, "some have described [middle-aged Americans] as experiencing not a better horizon but a worse horizon than their parents," Judith Weissman, the lead researcher and a research manager at New York University's Langone Medical Center, told CNN.

Between 2008 through 2014, Weisman notes that adults with serious psychological distress began using far fewer health care services, while those without mental illness generally increased their usage under the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA). The MHPAEA was put in place in 2008 and requires equal coverage between mental health conditions and other chronic illnesses.

If you’re living with an untreated mental illness, you can get help for little to no out-of-pocket cost. To locate services near you, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or use their online treatment locator.

For immediate help in a crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 9-1-1.

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