Mental Health in the United States By the Numbers

29 Apr Mental Health in the United States By the Numbers

In the United States, mental illness is a growing concern. How can it not be, when one in four American adults experience mental illness at some point in their life? What’s more, approximately 20% of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental illness every year.

Severe mental illnesses cost Americans $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually, and mood disorders are the fourth most common cause of hospitalization in the United States for individuals aged 18 to 44.

Put simply, these numbers are significant, and it’s important that we pay attention to them.

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States

Mental illnesses vary drastically in their severity and symptoms, so the previously stated statistics are fairly broad and sweeping. Here is a breakdown of some particular diagnoses and their prevalence in America in order to help you better understand and identify these issues.

Anxiety Disorders

While some level of stress, worry and anxiety is normal for humans to experience, anxiety disorders are diagnosed when an individual’s level of worry is constant, excessive and interferes with their daily life. Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social phobias, specific phobias and panic disorder.

The average age of onset for anxiety disorders in the United States is 11, so it’s never too early to keep an eye out for symptoms. Research from 2005 estimated that 25.1% of youth aged 13 to 18 will have experienced an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and 18.1% of the adult population will have one during a 12-month period. For both age groups, women were much more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders than men.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder:

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed mental disorder in children. Individuals living with ADHD struggle with focus, attention, goal-setting and organization.

The prevalence of ADHD amongst the adult population in the United States is 4.1%, while amongst youth aged 13 to 18, the prevalence of diagnosis is 9.0%.

The average age of onset of ADHD is 12.

Eating Disorders:

Eating disorders are characterized by an extreme concern for body image and control. There are several types of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating.

For youth ages 13 to 18, eating disorders are diagnosed in 2.7 percent of the population. While the National Institute of Mental Health does not have recorded information for the prevalence of anorexia in adults, bulimia is experienced by 0.3 percent of the adult population and binge-eating by 1.2 percent.

hands children child

Image Credit: Kalliwumpe

Mood Disorders:

Mood disorders are a category of mental illnesses that affect an individual’s feelings and emotions. The two most common of these are major depressive disorder—characterized by extreme and debilitating feelings of sadness and hopelessness—and bipolar disorder, which is characterized by episodes of mania and depression.

Amongst adults, the 12-month prevalence of bipolar disorder is 2.6%. The prevalence for youth is difficult to determine because symptoms tend to develop at an older age. The average age of onset is 25.

Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. In 2012 alone, an estimated 16 million adults over the age of 18 experienced a depressive episode. An estimated 2.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 experienced an episode that same year.

Personality Disorders:

Personality disorders describe a category of mental illnesses characterized by rigid habits of behavior and interaction with others. There are many specific diagnoses that fall under this broad category including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Amongst the adult population in America, personality disorders had a 12-month prevalence of 9.1% in 2007.

Treatment Use in the United States

With these numbers of prevalence in mind, it’s important to consider how many individuals seek treatment for their diagnoses. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, an estimated 2.9 million children aged 4-17 received treatment besides or in addition to medication for a mental health condition. While this number may seem high, it only makes up approximately 5.3% of the population of American children, whereas approximately 13-20% of all children in America experience a mental disorder in any given year.

For individuals over the age of 12, approximately 1 in 10 Americans take antidepressant medication, and women are two and a half times more likely to take it than men. That being said, only approximately one third of of individuals living with severe depressive symptoms take antidepressant medication. 

While there are many options for treatment and no solutions are “one size fits all,” there is still a significant gap between those living with a mental illness and those receiving treatment.

stethoscope medical doctor

Image Credit: DarkoStojanovic

Stigma in the United States

Perhaps one of the most significant issues that needs to be addressed in order to lessen the gap between prevalence and treatment is stigma. Unfortunately, fear of stigma is one significant reason why many individuals with a mental health diagnosis don’t seek the support that they need.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 57% of all adult Americans believe that people are generally caring and sympathetic towards individuals living with mental illness. However, amongst those surveyed who have a mental illness, only 25% believed this was the case.

Therefore, it’s important to find ways to spread knowledge and understanding about mental illnesses to reduce this stigma and promote support systems and treatment.

Feature Image: Unsplash



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