Mental Health

Oregonians answer some difficult questions about mental health to give a broad view of perceptions and services in their communities.

image: brain with stethoscope

Mental health, like many public policy issues, is complicated and multifaceted, and hard to cover in a short survey without many respondents feeling we’re oversimplifying things. Please know that as a nonprofit organization, OVBC is working hard to have the resources to provide Oregonians with a more complete understanding of public opinion about mental health and the other issues we ask about in our monthly surveys. This includes more in-depth quantitative research and qualitative research to understand the motivations underlying attitudes expressed in the surveys.

In the meantime, to assist organizations working to build stronger communities across the state with their planning, policymaking, and communications, we will give our respondents an opportunity to respond to general questions about an issue so as to report the broad spectrum of how a representative cross-section of Oregonians feels about it at a high level. This includes an opportunity in the survey to provide any volunteered comments about the issue. These verbatim responses are included in our analysis and reporting.

From November 8-15, 2021, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs, including questions about mental health. The questions were intended to gather preliminary data to inform more in-depth research in the months ahead.

The online survey consisted of 1,200 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Demographic quotas and statistical weighting were used to ensure a representative sample. Based on a 95% confidence interval, this survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.7% to ±2.8% depending on how the response category percentages split for any given question. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.

Respondents were contacted by using professionally maintained online panels. In gathering responses, a variety of quality control measures were employed, including questionnaire pre-testing, validation, and real-time monitoring of responses. To ensure a representative sample, demographic quotas were set, and data weighted by area of the state, gender, age, and education.

This survey uses aggregated data to analyze the opinions of BIPOC residents in comparison to the opinions of residents who identify as white and not another race. BIPOC residents are not a monolith; the grouping represents a wide diversity of races and ethnicities. The findings included in this memo should not be construed such that all people of color are believed to share the same opinions. Disaggregated race data will be provided when sample sizes permit reliability.

The question numbers in this document correspond with the survey questionnaire, available to download at the bottom of the page (Q1-36).

Satisfaction With Public Services

The first series of questions dealt with Oregonians’ levels of satisfaction with a variety of public services, resources, and attributes where they live (Q1-17).

Oregonians tend to be most satisfied with the natural resources and opportunities for outdoor recreation in their area, with very/somewhat satisfied ratings higher than 60% for each of the following (Q7, Q10, Q11, Q13):

  • Places for outdoor and nature recreation (77%)
  • Trails and parks (74%)
  • Water quality (69%)
  • Air quality (63%)

Oregon’s natural resources and outdoor recreation spaces have also received high satisfaction scores in other statewide surveys, including a DHM Research study from November 2018 which placed all these attributes in the top tier for satisfaction, and are routinely cited as key reasons Oregonians choose to live in the state.

Comparatively, Oregonians’ satisfaction with mental health resources in their area is much lower (Q12, Q17):

  • Mental health services (23%)
  • Cost of prescription medications for mental health (17%)

Only 12% of Oregonians are satisfied with homelessness services (which often include mental health supports) in their area. A notable 82% of Multnomah County residents are not very or not at all satisfied with homelessness services in their area (Q2). An October 2020 survey conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center[1] found that Oregonians believe mental illness is the number one reason people become homeless.

It should be noted that while Oregonians’ satisfaction with mental health services in their area is low, satisfaction with physical health services is roughly twice as high, with 50% saying they are very or somewhat satisfied; though satisfaction differs dramatically by income, from 64% among those making $100k or more per year to 41% among those making less than $50k per year (Q1).

Which is More Important: Mental Health or Physical Health

Oregonians overwhelmingly believe that physical and mental health are equally important for individual well-being, with 79% sharing this sentiment. Women are more likely to feel this way than men (83% vs. 75%) (Q18). These results are consistent with a 2010 survey conducted in Clackamas County by DHM Research[2] which found that 76% of Oregonians held physical and mental health as equally important for individual well-being.

Interestingly, a strong majority of Oregonians (65%) believes that society in general treats having good physical health as more important than having good mental health, up from 53% in the aforementioned Clackamas County survey from 2010 (Q19).

As shown, past surveys conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center have found that large majorities of Oregonians view mental and physical health as equally important for individual well-being, so the stark disparity in satisfaction levels Oregonians express regarding the mental and physical health services in their area is worth noting for healthcare providers and decision makers.

Fair Treatment, Unfair Advantage, or Unfair Disadvantage

The third series of questions dealt with different demographic groups in Oregon and whether respondents feel they are treated fairly, get special advantages that others do not get, or are treated unfairly or are discriminated against (Q20-24).

There are only two tested groups that a majority of Oregonians feel are unfairly disadvantaged (Q23, Q24):

  • People with mental health problems (67%)
  • People with addictions (51%)

Women are more likely than men to think that people with mental health problems are unfairly disadvantaged (72% vs. 60%), though a clear majority of both groups feel this way. Women are also more likely than men to think people with addictions are unfairly disadvantaged (55% vs. 45%)(Q23, Q24).

Perceptions of Mental Illness, Treatment, and Recovery

The fourth series of questions presented eleven statements, each of which were to be gauged for truthfulness by respondents (definitely true, probably true, probably not true, definitely not true).

Six of the statements are considered “probably true” or “definitely true” by a majority of Oregonians, but when organizing the statements by “definitely true” responses, a top tier of statements, which Oregonians believe in most strongly, emerges. Outside of this top tier, no other statement garners a “definitely true” score reaching 20% (Q25-35).

  • “Mental illness is something that can happen to anyone, regardless of their income or educational background, race, gender, age, religion, or ethnicity” (79% of Oregonians believe this statement is definitely true)(Q25)
    • More than 70% of all age, gender, ethnic, geographic, education, and income groups believe this statement is “definitely true.”
  • “People can recover from addictions such as alcohol, prescription drugs, and marijuana” (68%)(Q27)
  • “Many of us probably work or associate with people who may currently have, or have had some mental illness in the past, and we are not even aware of it” (51%)(Q31)
  • “Fear of being ridiculed or discriminated against are important barriers that keep many people from seeking help when they have mental illness” (49%)(Q35)
  • “Through treatment, medications, and support, most people who have a mental illness can return to being productive members of society” (41%)(Q30)

Among the eleven statements there are also five which a majority of Oregonians believe are “probably not true” or “definitely not true,” and which are considered “definitely not true” by at least one in five Oregonians:

  • “Most people who have a mental health issue bring it on themselves by their own behavior” (54% of Oregonians believe this statement is definitely not true)(Q29)
  • “Society generally is very caring and understanding of people who have a mental illness” (44%)(Q34)
  • “Once someone has a mental illness they will probably never recover from those problems” (28%)(Q32)
  • “Addictions are a personal choice and can be prevented” (27%)(Q28)
  • “A majority of crimes are committed by people with mental illness” (20%)(Q33)

In Their Own Words: Oregonians Share Their Thoughts on Mental Health

Respondents were provided the opportunity to weigh in open-ended with any other thoughts they have on the subject of mental health. Below is a representative sample of quotes from respondents, with key themes including the need for society to discuss mental health issues more openly, removing the stigma or taboo from the topic, and placing mental health on par with physical health as a societal priority (Q36).

“Mental health is a taboo subject — we as a society need to have a better more open forum for discussion on the subject.”

Male, age 30-44, Multnomah County, white or Caucasian

“Mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental health issues can affect health, so it is important that mental health issues get resolved.”

Female, age 55-64, Clackamas County, white or Caucasian

“Society needs to become better educated about mental illness, thus helping to change the perception of mental health and its importance in the overall health of individuals and society as a whole.”

Male, age 65-74, Linn County, Native American or American Indian

“Society deals with mental health issues too late. Trauma and other experiences in the home, family, and community while growing up are root causes. We fail in that respect by not providing nurturing, supportive, loving environments.”

Female, age 55-64, Tillamook County, Asian or Pacific Islander

“Help and resources for mental illness treatment are woefully underfunded, and many people in society see them as personal failings rather than valid medical issues. Plus systemic issues that people fail to acknowledge compound the issues.”

Male, age 18-29, Washington County, Black or African American and white or Caucasian

Demographic Trends

Identifying What Unites Us and Understanding What Divides Us

Reported below are statistically significant subgroup differences between BIPOC and white Oregonians, urban and rural Oregonians, and age groups.  Many of these differences are not major and are presented to inform public education and communications initiatives. 

  • Oregonians of color and white Oregonians have roughly equal levels of low satisfaction with mental health services (27% and 23%) and the cost of prescription medications for mental health (19% and 16%) in their area (Q12, Q17).
  • More than seven in ten Oregonians of color and white Oregonians believe it is definitely true that mental illness is something that can happen to anyone, regardless of their income or educational background, race, gender, age, religion, or ethnicity (74% and 80%, respectively)(Q25).
  • Again, urban and rural Oregonians have roughly equal levels of low satisfaction with mental health services (26% and 22%) and the cost of prescription medications for mental health (19% and 13%) in their area (Q12, Q17).
  • A majority of Oregonians of all ages say that physical health and mental health are equally important for individuals. However, younger Oregonians ages 18-44 are more likely to believe mental health is the more important of the two and their older counterparts ages 65+ are more likely to prioritize physical health (Q18).

This research was completed as a community service by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, an independent and non-partisan organization. OVBC is an Oregon charitable nonprofit corporation (www.oregonvbc.org).

For More Information:


[1] Survey conducted October 1-6,2020; DHM Research and OVBC; n=600.

[2] Survey conducted November 17-21, 2010; DHM Research; n= 300