Research helps market researchers understand the nuances of mental health to better navigate sensitive topics

By Tom Littlejohn, Chief Operations Officer, Veridata Insights and Adam Slater Founder, Clarafy Research Solutions.

Tom Littlejohn is the chief operations officer of Veridata Insights and Adam Slater is the founder of Clarify Research Solutions.

Mental health remains a major issue in American life. Many issues arise but even more questions and seeming contradictions emerge: 

  • Most recognize it to be a major issue in society; few want to talk about it. 
  • Many want to utilize mental health therapy; relatively few actually do. 
  • Despite more attention paid to suicide prevention post-pandemic, suicide rates reached a record high in 2022, now averaging close to 50,000 deaths per year.

Recent research conducted by Veridata Insights and Clarafy Research sheds new light on these issues and offers clues – both to society to improve the situation and to market researchers on how to navigate sensitive topics.  


The survey was conducted online among 1,249 American adults between November 2-15, 2023. The margin of error for a survey of 1,200 is +/- 2.8%.

Major findings 

A significant stigma continues to exist for seeking mental health care

  • Two-thirds of Americans agree that there is a significant stigma associated with seeking mental health care; 29% believe this strongly. Only 11% disagree. 
  • Agreement is strongest among college grads (71%), parents (70%) and younger generations (67%). This supports previous research on how younger generations tend to be better attuned to mental health concerns than older cohorts. 
    • Younger generations have pushed for “mental health days” and embraced the value of therapy more than others. Our survey shows that 25% of Millennials and Gen Z are “in therapy,” and 43% have seen a therapist in the past year. More promising is that over two-thirds of these age groups have seen a therapist at some point in their lives. 
    • Conversely, only 13% of Boomers and Gen X report being “in therapy” and fewer than one-fifth have seen a therapist in the past year. In contrast to their children’s generations, half of older Americans have never seen a therapist.
  • The data is a reminder of the stress parents are facing. Our research shows that parents are “in therapy” at nearly double the rate of non-parents (27% vs. 15%), with 70% of parents having been in therapy at some point in their lives vs. 53% of non-parents. Some of this is driven by age but the data shows that parents are utilizing therapy more than other groups.
  • Men are more likely than women (67% vs. 61%) to agree that there is significant stigma in seeking mental health care. Perhaps due to that perceived stigma, men do not seek therapy more than women. Women are more likely to have seen a therapist during their life (63% vs. 53%) but the genders are equal in having seen a therapist in the past year. Women are more likely to be “lapsed” therapy patients (32% to 25%), having seen a therapist a year or more ago.    

Chart showing the significant stigma in seeking mental health care.

Of the 1,249 respondents surveyed, nearly half could not or were not sure they’d be able to access a mental health therapist easily and affordably. 

  • When we dug into the reasons why, cost unsurprisingly rose to the top. Half of this group with “questionable access” is cost-based (“too much money”) and 33% said their insurance would not cover mental health care. Taken together, 28% of all adults surveyed may want access to professional mental health services but do not have the money. Exploring this “questionable access” group further:
    • Over one-third indicated they “don’t know where to start,” indicating an opportunity to educate. Moreover, many in this group overindex as being more likely to think about suicide (43%). Other groups of importance include men (45%) and Gen Z (48%). 
    • Additional access barriers included: A lack of therapists/wait lists (27%), telehealth options not working for them (11%) and being too far away (11%).  
  • Takeaway: While providing funding may be challenging from a public policy standpoint, the data suggests paths to improve access to care: A) broaden access for those whose insurance doesn’t provide coverage (or advocating that insurance companies universally include coverage plans), B) increase the supply of mental health care providers to meet growing demand and C) improve telehealth technology and/or communications to make people more comfortable with utilizing telehealth.

Chart showing reasons you might not be able to access the service of a mental health therapist easily and affordably.

Implications for market researchers

Despite the sensitivity of mental health and suicide, a strong majority (57%) said they would be willing to engage in future research. This included a majority of those who couldn’t or weren’t sure if they would be able to access mental health care, with a majority of that cohort who wouldn’t even know where to start. Those more likely to think about suicide were most likely to want to discuss further (66%). These are promising signs for conducting further research.

As an industry and a society, the better we can understand the topic of mental health, the better equipped we can be to help address the issue and potentially save lives. Through further studies, market researchers can contribute to uncovering actionable insights to make a positive change. The simple act of asking a question allows us to offer help. In our survey, we reminded respondents about the new 988 national hotline to help support those who are having suicidal thoughts.

Another takeaway is that online market research can be a valuable tool for sensitive topics. It may lead to a better way to recruit respondents and the anonymity offered may boost engagement for longitudinal projects compared to standard qualitative screening and recruiting methods alone. 

Addressing the issue of mental health requires a collaborative effort across society and as market researchers we must contribute as best we can. Our research shows that many are neglecting their mental health and avoiding professional care. Many prefer to confide in friends, family or their spouse/partner. However, it’s mental health professionals that are best equipped to evaluate mental well-being. These societal and internal barriers to seek professional help are harmful, so we should speak about them often to continue to bring light to this dark subject.

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