Elmo's Innocent Question Shines Light on a Depressed America

The responses to a viral post from Sesame Street character Elmo revealed a grim reality: many people are not doing well right now.

What began as an innocent post from a puppet quickly became a window into the collective mental health crisis many are currently facing when Elmo, the beloved Sesame Street character, shared a wellness check-in on X this week.

“Elmo is just checking in! How is everybody doing?” the character posted on Monday. Soon, thousands of responses about “existential dread,” “suffering,” and being “depressed and broke” began to flood in.

Research has shown that many Americans are struggling with their mental health at more alarming rates than ever before. A recent Gallup poll found that the percentage of United States adults who reported being diagnosed with depression at some point in their lifetime has reached 29% — nearly 10 percentage points higher than in 2015.

Roughly half of U.S. adults have also reported feeling lonely, according to an advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General published last year. The advisory says young adults are almost twice as likely to report feeling lonely than those over 65 and that lower-income adults are more likely to be lonely than those with higher incomes.

“Wow! Elmo is glad he asked!” Elmo posted as a follow-up to the original question. “Elmo learned that it is important to ask a friend how they are doing. Elmo will check in again soon, friends! Elmo loves you. #EmotionalWellBeing.”

The responses were so overwhelming that President Joe Biden even chimed in on Tuesday.

“I know how hard it is some days to sweep the clouds away and get to sunnier days,” he wrote. “Our friend Elmo is right: We have to be there for each other, offer our help to a neighbor in need, and above all else, ask for help when we need it. Even though it's hard, you're never alone.”

A lack of resources

The number of people who jumped at the opportunity to share their experiences is not only evidence of the country’s mental health crisis but also of the lack of resources available to so many who need support, according to Jennifer Reid, M.D., a mental health educator also known as the "Reflective Doc."

“I can’t ignore the significant shortage of psychiatrists and therapists available these days,” Reid tells Healthnews. “It can be very hard to connect with someone who not only has availability, but also feels safe and engaging enough to share our intimate thoughts and feelings. But these factors are all important, so I would encourage people not to give up on the search."

Reid says those struggling with their mental health should pay close attention to their coping mechanisms and whether they’re meeting their needs or causing additional issues. This includes social media – the very platform so many used to express their feelings this week.

“I’m not of the opinion that it is all bad, because there are opportunities to connect with others who may be struggling and are speaking out, as well as the many health care providers creating content these days,” Reid says. “If, however, social media doomscrolling is taking the place of interactions with those who care most about us, we won’t receive the support we need.”

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