Mental Illness Rates Are On the Rise

The results are in, and they’re not so heartening when it comes to our psychological health: One in every five adults ages 18 or older (a total of nearly 44 million Americans) are affected by depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and/or other mental illnesses, according to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The highest rates of mental illness were among people ages 29 to 45, at nearly 22%. Women and the unemployed were also more likely to be affected.

The message, then, for those with mental illness, as well as their families and loved ones, is that you’re definitely not alone. The survey results also make clear that mental illness is an equal opportunity disease. If you’re not affected yourself, it’s almost a certainty that a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker is. “Mental illnesses are common healthcare conditions that affect almost all Americans,“ says Paolo del Vecchio, MSW, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services.

The hope is that by showing the breadth of Americans touched by these disorders, this data might help to normalize mental illness and dispel any misperceptions or negative attitudes that prevent or inhibit recovery, explains del Vecchio, who adds, “One major misperception is that most people with mental illnesses are violent. Yet the prevalence of violence among those with a major mental disorder who had received treatment and did not abuse substances has been found to be indistinguishable from people in a non-substance-abusing comparison group.” In fact, studies show that people with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime; they’re nearly three times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population, he notes.

Mental Illness Rates Are On the RiseIn the SAMHSA survey, which polled 67,500 Americans ages 12 and up, mental illness is defined as having a mental, behavioral or emotional problem based on criteria in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), a reference for diagnosing and treating mental illness. (The fifth edition of the DSM is the most recent version of the manual.) Developmental disorders, like Asperger’s syndrome and ADD/ADHD, and substance use disorders (alcoholism and illicit drug use) were excluded from the list of mental disorders in the survey.

Other noteworthy highlights of the report include:

  • 10 million adults had a serious mental illness, which is defined as an illness that affects a person’s ability to function normally (to, for instance, hold down a job).
  • 7 million adults and 2.6 million youths (those ages 12 to 17) experienced a major depressive episode.
  • 3 million American adults (3.9%) had serious thoughts of suicide.
  • 7 million (1.1%) made plans to commit suicide and 1.3 million (0.6%) attempted suicide.

The survey also found that relatively few people seek help for their condition, mostly out of fear of social repercussions or an impact on their career. Only about 45% of the 44 million received treatment, though rates were higher (about 68%) among those with serious mental illness. “Everyone needs to know that there are effective, evidence-based interventions — social, psychological and pharmaceutical — to help people with mental illness,” stresses del Vecchio.

He adds that Americans also need to know that recovery is possible: “With proper treatment and support from family and community, people can recover and lead healthy, active and productive lives.”

If you or a loved one has a mental illness, SAMHSA recommends the following resources:

  • To find treatment or support resources near you, visit SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator to find local mental health services. You can search by ZIP code to receive a list of options available in your area.
  • To improve your mental well-being on your own, go to the Mental Health America’s Live Your Life Well site for tips and tools to cope with hardship and stay positive. You can also search there for support groups in your community.
  • If you’re thinking of hurting yourself, call SAMHSA’s National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately. You’ll speak with a trained counselor who will listen to you, guide you through your situation and help connect you with local resources. The line is staffed 24/7 and all conversations are confidential.

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