Emily Rice Published

W.Va. Experiencing Mental Illness At Rates Higher Than The National Average

A tablet shows the words "Mental Health" as a person sits ready to read.West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

According to multiple studies, Boone and Logan counties have the highest rates of depression in the nation.

Data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2020 more than 18 percent of U.S. adults reported having ever been diagnosed with depression. In that same period, 27.5 percent of West Virginians reported being diagnosed with depression, the highest in the nation.

The CDC analyzed 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data to estimate the national, state-level, and county-level prevalence of U.S. adults aged older than 18 years self-reporting a lifetime diagnosis of depression.

In the report, the CDC found that most of the states with the highest prevalence of depression were in the Appalachian and Mississippi Valley regions.

Jessica Bradley is a psychologist at Marshall Health. She said the rates of depression revealed in the June 2023 CDC report were concerning to her as a mental health provider and a citizen.

The data showed that an estimated 32 percent of adults in Logan County have been diagnosed with depression, which is the highest in the nation,” Bradley said. “And that number for West Virginia was 27.5 percent. But that’s opposed to, I believe,18 percent of adults nationwide. So clearly, we are at a much higher rate. That’s concerning as a provider. It’s also concerning as a citizen because these are, these are our family members. These are my friends. These are people that I care about. And it’s not just numbers, these are humans with stories.”

While the CDC report revealed Logan County as the most depressed county in West Virginia, and the nation, Christina Mullins, commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Behavioral Health, said the CDC’s data was compiled from 2014 to 2020 and cited the newly released West Virginia MATCH Survey as the research her department relies on.

So what I think is happening, what I think has happened to some degree, is that we’ve all gotten a little worse through the pandemic and but I don’t know that Logan County has gotten as worse as some, as bad, you know, has worsened as much as other areas, because my data is right now is not supporting what’s shown in and that data is valid for the time period that it was collected,” Mullins said.

MATCH is a biennial survey – meaning data is collected every two years. One out of 14 adult West Virginians are randomly chosen to participate using a large database of West Virginia residential addresses. The first survey period was August 2021 to February 2022.

“The data indicators are not exactly the same,” Mullins said. “But I had Logan County as 12th, actually in the state for depression, anxiety or PTSD, PTSD in the last 12 months, at 27 percent. And the state average being 24.3. So they weren’t, they weren’t the worst when I was really looking at the stats.”

According to the West Virginia Match Survey, 27.4 percent of Logan County residents said they had experienced depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder in the past 12 months. 

The highest rate, according to the West Virginia MATCH Survey, was in Boone County, just over the county line, with 32 percent of residents reporting experiencing depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder in the past 12 months.

Researchers for the CDC found that rates of depression in West Virginia might reflect the influence of social determinants of health or patterns of other chronic diseases.

Social determinants are a really broad concept,” Bradley said. “And they start out as anything from food insecurity to parental involvement. Whenever you’re a kid, to job security, and family stressors. on a community level, it looks like the economy and what’s going on the world around you. And that can be extended to just nationwide. So, if you take all of that into consideration, everything is playing apart, and where you are, how you’re feeling about things.”

Boone and Logan counties were coal-producing powerhouses until the nation moved away from coal-powered electricity and the mines began to close.

One of the symptoms of depression is hopelessness,” Bradley said. “And it’s so much easier to feel hopeless about things, whenever the voices that you hear are telling you that there’s no hope.”

In response to these challenges, Logan County residents are banding together for better health. 

The Coalfield Health Center in Chapmanville is part of a group that hopes to address southern West Virginia’s health outcomes. Next to the clinic, Wild, Wonderful and Healthy Logan County (WWHLC) is developing a public greenspace for all Logan County residents.

We have relationships across our state to try to meet the need in these rural populations because it’s so difficult for it’s so difficult for people to get access to quality services are really just to get access to services period, in the rural settings they have to travel or maybe they don’t have the finances to be able to travel to the big city,” Bradley said. “That’s one of the things that’s so difficult so telehealth has really helped improve that access. And then also people are just willing to do the work to get to these places. And I think that’s a really wonderful thing.”

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.

**Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Jessica Bradley is a physiatrist. She is a psychologist.