In the past year, 45.9 million Americans above the age of 18 years, or 20% of 18 year-olds, experienced mental illness, according to a new national report. Mental illness amongst those aged between 18 and 25 years (29.9%) was more than double as high, compared with people aged 50 years or older (14.3%). The report also demonstrated that in the past year, adult women (23%) were more likely to have experienced mental illness, compared with 16.8% of men.

According to criteria specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994), mental illness amongst adults above the age of 18 is defined as having had a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, excluding developmental and substance use disorders. Figures from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that during the past year 11.4 million adults, representing 5% of the adult population, suffered from serious mental illness. Serious mental illness is defined as seriously impairing a person’s functionality, meaning a substantial interference or limitation of one or more life activities.

SAMHSA’s strategic initiative on substance abuse and mental illness prevention and recovery aims to help states, territories, tribal governments, and communities in adopting evidence-based practices, to provide health education in terms of prevention and to develop effective policies, programs, and infrastructure to help tackle these problems. New programs are underway nationwide to reinforce communities’ capacities to better cater for those suffering from mental illness.

SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde declared:

“Mental illnesses can be managed successfully, and people do recover. Mental illness is not an isolated public health problem. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity often co-exist with mental illness and treatment of the mental illness can reduce the effects of these disorders. The Obama Administration is working to promote the use of mental health services through health reform. People, families, and communities will benefit from increased access to mental health services.”

Mental illness has a considerable economic impact in the United States, costing about $300 billion in 2002. The World Health Organization states that in developed countries, mental illness accounts for more disability than any other group of illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.

Reports of treatment statistics suggest that in the past year, 4 in 10 people suffering from any mental illness received mental health services (39.2%). For those suffering from serious mental illness, the rate of treatment was significantly higher (60.8%).

According to the report, an estimated 8.7 million American adults seriously contemplated suicide in the past year, of which 2.5 million reported to have made suicide plans and 1.1 million attempting suicide. People in crisis or those who know someone who may be at immediate risk of attempting suicide are advised to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or visit their website where they receive instant free and confidential 24 hour crisis counseling. The Lifeline is open 24/7 to anyone in need throughout the country, every day of the year.

The report demonstrates that rates for substance dependence were substantially higher in those who experienced either any mental illness or serious mental illness, compared with adults without mental illness during the past year. Those who did (20%) tended to be over three times more likely of meeting the criteria for substance dependence or abuse during the past year, compared with those who had not experienced mental illness (6.1%), whilst the rate for those with serious mental illness was even higher at 25.2%.

SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde commented:”These data underscore the importance of substance abuse treatment as well.”

Ileana Arias, Ph.D., Principal Deputy Director of CDC stated:

“Mental illness is a significant public health problem in itself, but also because it is associated with chronic medical diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, as well as several risk behaviors including physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep. Today’s report issued by SAMHSA provides further evidence that we need to continue efforts to monitor levels of mental illness in the United States in order to effectively prevent this important public health problem and its negative impact on total health.”

The report also shows important findings of mental health issues amongst teens aged 12 to 17 years. It states that in the past year 1.9 million youths between the ages of 12 to 17 years, i.e. 8% of this population, suffered from a major depressive episode. According to the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994), a major depressive episode is defined as a time span lasting a minimum of two weeks in which a person experiences a depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities and had at least four of seven additional symptoms described in the Manual.

Furthermore, the report also reveals that youths aged between 12 to 17 years with a major depressive episode in the past year have more than double the rate of past year illicit drug use (37.2%), as compared to their counterparts who were depression-free during that period (17.8%).

For the full survey of this report please click here.

The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health recruited about 67,500 people aged 12 years and older from all over the country. Due to its statistical power, it is the nation’s premier source of statistical information on the scope and nature of many behavioral health issues affecting the nation. For more information about SAMHSA click here.

SAMHSA is a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. Its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

Written by Petra Rattue