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  • Writer's pictureDr Maike Neuhaus

How many people are languishing? The prevalence of low mental wellbeing in society

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of mental health and wellbeing. However, many people may not realise that there is also a significant number of individuals who experience low mental wellbeing, or languishing. This state is characterised by feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, and a lack of purpose or meaning in life.

In this article, I share some of the statistics about the prevalence of languishing and what it means for our mental health and wellbeing.

How many people are languishing? The prevalence of low mental wellbeing in society
How many people are languishing? The prevalence of low mental wellbeing in society

Languishing: A hidden epidemic

Research conducted by Keyes and colleagues (2010) in the United States found that 17.2% of adults reported feeling moderately mentally unhealthy, and 3.6% reported feeling highly mentally unhealthy. These individuals were considered to be languishing according to the Complete State Model of Mental Health. This study highlights the fact that a significant portion of the population may experience low mental wellbeing.

Similarly, a study by Westerhof and Keyes (2010) in the Netherlands found that 22% of adults were languishing. In a study by Lamers and colleagues (2011) in the Netherlands, the prevalence of languishing was even higher, with 31.2% of adults reporting low mental wellbeing.

Languishing during the COVID-19 pandemic

The study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2020 investigated the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on adults in the United States.

The study also examined the prevalence of languishing using the validated measure of psychological well-being, the short-form Mental Health Continuum- SF, which assesses emotional, social, and psychological well-being. The study found that 30.9% of respondents reported being in a state of languishing.

Together, these findings suggest that the prevalence of languishing may vary depending on the population being studied and the measurement tools used. However, they indicate that low mental wellbeing is a common experience for many people - especially post-pandemic.

Implications of languishing for society, our healthcare system and individuals

The implications of such a high prevalence of languishing are significant for society, our healthcare system, and individuals.

On a societal level, it highlights the importance of addressing flourishing as a public health issue. If such a large portion of the population is experiencing a lack of mental wellbeing, it can have detrimental effects on the workforce, economy, and overall quality of life. As the research suggests, those who are languishing are at a higher risk for developing mental illnesses in the future. This highlights the need for preventative measures and early interventions to promote mental wellbeing and prevent the development of mental illness.

For individuals, recognising the prevalence of languishing can help promote self-awareness and the importance of taking care of one's mental health. It is essential to prioritise mental wellbeing through self-care practices such as exercise, mindfulness, and seeking professional help from qualified positive psychology practitioners when necessary.

Maike x


Westerhof, G. J., & Keyes, C. L. M. (2010). Mental illness and mental health: The two continua model across the lifespan. Journal of Adult Development, 17(2), 110-119.

Lamers, S. M. A., Westerhof, G. J., Bohlmeijer, E. T., ten Klooster, P. M., & Keyes, C. L. M. (2011). Evaluating the psychometric properties of the Mental Health Continuum-Short Form (MHC-SF). Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67(1), 99-110.


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