What is Mental Illness?

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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 affect the brain and 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 disorder. The good news is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect persons 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.

In addition to medication treatment, psychosocial treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, peer support groups, and other community services can also be components of a treatment plan that assist with recovery. The availability of transportation, diet, exercise, sleep, friends, and meaningful paid or volunteer activities contribute to overall health and wellness, including mental illness recovery.

Prevalence Of Mental Illness

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (17.8%)—43.4 million—experiences mental illness in a given year.1
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. (4%)—9.8 million—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.2
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experience a severe mental disorder in a given year. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13.1%.3
  • 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.4
  • 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.5
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in 2015.6
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or specific phobias.7
  • Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. with a past year substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had co-occurring mental illness.8

Citations (from NAMI Mental Health by the Numbers)

1) Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-mental-illness-ami-among-adults.shtml

2) Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved May 2, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/serious-mental-illness-smi-among-us-adults.shtml

3) Any Disorder Among Children. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-disorder-among-children.shtml

4) Schizophrenia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/schizophrenia.shtml

5) Bipolar Disorder Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/bipolar-disorder-among-adults.shtml

6) Major Depression Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adults.shtml

7) Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml

8) Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-50, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4927. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Retrieved May 9, 2017 from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FRR1-2014/NSDUH-FRR1-2014.pdf

Social Stats

  • An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders.1
  • Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.2
  • 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% live with a serious mental illness.3
  • Only 62.9% of U.S. adults,8 and just over half (50.6%) of children aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.4
  • African American 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.5
  • Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 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.6

Citations (from NAMI Mental Health by the Numbers)

1) U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Community Planning and Development. (2011). The 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2010HomelessAssessmentReport.pdf

2) Glaze, L.E. & James, D.J. (2006). Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs Washington, D.C. Retrieved June 5, 2017, from http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/mhppji.pdf 

3) National Center for Mental Health and Juvenile Justice. (2007). Blueprint for Change: A Comprehensive Model for the Identification and Treatment of Youth with Mental Health Needs in Contact with the Juvenile Justice System. Delmar, N.Y: Skowyra, K.R. & Cocozza, J.J. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.ncmhjj.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/2007_Blueprint-for-Change-Full-Report.pdf 

4) Use of Mental Health Services and Treatment Among Children. (n.d.). Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/use-of-mental-health-services-and-treatment-among-children.shtml

5) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2010). 2010 National Healthcare Disparities Report. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/nhqrdr/nhdr10/index.html

6) Kessler, R.C., et al. (2005). Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbitity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 593–602. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=208671

Consequences Of Lack Of Treatment

    • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.1
    • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.2
    • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.3 Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.4
    • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14–21 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.5
    • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,6 the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–147 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.8
    • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.9
    • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.10

Citations (from NAMI Mental Health by the Numbers)

1) Insel, T.R. (2008). Assessing the Economic Costs of Serious Mental Illness. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 165(6), 663-665

2) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, The Department of Health & Human Services. (2009). HCUP Facts and Figures: Statistics on Hospital-based Care in the United States, 2009. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/factsandfigures/2009/pdfs/FF_report_2009.pdf

3) Colton, C.W. & Manderscheid, R.W. (2006). Congruencies in Increased Mortality Rates, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Causes of Death Among Public Mental Health Clients in Eight States. Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice and Policy, 3(2), 1–14. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1563985/

4) National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Council. (2006). Morbidity and Mortality in People with Serious Mental Illness. Alexandria, VA: Parks, J., et al. Retrieved June 6, 2017 from http://www.nasmhpd.org/docs/publications/MDCdocs/Mortality%20and%20Morbid

5) U.S. Department of Education. (2014). 35th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2013. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/osep/2013/parts-b-c/35th-idea-arc.pdf 

6) Suicide Facts at a Glance 2015 (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicide-datasheet-a.pdf 

7, 8) “10 Leading Causes of Death By Age Group, United States, 2015” (2015). Retrieved June 6, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/injury/images/lc-charts/leading_causes_of_death_age_group_2015_1050w740h.gif

9) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (1999). Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved June 9, 2017, from http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/access/NNBBJC.pdf

10) U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Mental Health Services Suicide Prevention Program. (2012). Suicide Data Report, 2012. Kemp, J. & Bossarte, R. Retrieved June 6, 2017, from http://www.va.gov/opa/docs/Suicide-Data-Report-2012-final.pdf 

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