Understanding Mental Illness

When I started exploring this subject, there were a number of related assumptions I wanted to address and determine their validity; i.e., there is much more mental illness today than there was 10-20 years ago.

This is probably true but there appears to be no statistical history available to prove or refute that because the definition and criteria for mental illness have expanded greatly.

At the same time, any objective analysis can confirm the pressures and complexities of life have certainly increased over the last few years, as well as the economic downfall and uncertainties.  All this adds to the fragile psyche and helps explain why there appears to be much more mental illness.

A second assumption is one about the amount of funding.  It would appear there is more funding available today than there was 10-20 years ago; but, because of tightening budgets at all levels of government, there is certainly less than there was five years ago.

So, let’s concentrate now on what we can know for certain to understand mental illness.

What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning.  Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disordcr.  The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect people of any age, race, religion or income.  Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing.  Mental illnesses are treatable.  Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Specific Mental Illnesses Cover a Wide Range of Problems

  • Anxiety Disorder – 40 million people
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD) – affects 4% of youth ages nine to 17
  • Bipolar Disorder – 6 million people
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Illness
  • Eating Disorders – affects 1% to 4% (mostly females) in their lifetime
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Schizophrenia – 24 million people

Numbers of Americans Affected by Mental Illness

  • One in four adults—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experiences mental illness in a given year.  One in 17—about 13.5 million—live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year.  For ages eight to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.
  • Approximately 26 percent of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 45 percent live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.
  • Approximately 20 percent of state prisoners and 21 percent of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.
  • Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20 percent live with a severe mental illness.

Getting Mental Health Treatment in America

  • Approximately 60 percent of adults, and almost one-half of youth ages eight to 15, with mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year.
  • African Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of whites in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate.
  • One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three quarters by age 24.  Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.

The Impact of Mental Illness in America

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year (that’s a big dent in the economy).
  • Mood disorders such as depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults ages 18 to 44.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.  Adults living with serious mental illnesses die on average 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Over 50 percent of students with a mental health condition age 14 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide) and the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years.  More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide had one or more mental disorder.
  • Although military members comprise less than one percent of the U.S. population, veterans represent 20 percent of suicides nationally.  Each day, about 22 veterans die from suicide.

These statistics are alarming.  They all come from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).  The comments, except mine, come from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Note:  We haven’t mentioned “dementia and alzheimer’s disease” that manifest many of the same signs as mental illness.  Technically, these are classified as neurological diseases which continue to increase as our population ages.  It is estimated that over five million people have some form of dementia and 70% of this group have alzheimer’s.

In the next few blogs, we’ll discuss some specific areas of mental illness; children, suicide and prisons.  We’ll end up this series by attempting to outline what is being done and what more is needed.


Leave a comment

Filed under Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s