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One in Five Americans Suffers from Mental Health Illness
Alice G. Walton

March 4, 2012

A new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that 20% of Americans suffered from a mental illness last year. To put this in perspective, this translates to 45.9 million people. Almost 30% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 25 suffered from a mental health disorder. And among all adults, women were more likely to suffer than men (23% vs. almost 17%, respectively).

The report included mood disorders like depression and manic episodes, anxiety disorders (panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder), eating disorders (for example, anorexia), intermittent explosive disorder, and adjustment disorder.

Over 11 million people in the country suffer from a severe form of mental health problem, which is defined as symptoms resulting in “substantial impairment in carrying out major life activities.” About 8.7 million people had serious thoughts of suicide; 2.5 million made plans to kill themselves and 1.1 million attempted suicide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that mental health disorders are responsible for more disability in developed nations than any other family of health problems, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The new report measured but did not include addiction in the estimates of the prevalence of mental health disorders. But it did find that people who experience a mental health problem in the past year were more than three times as likely to have substance abuse problems as well, compared to people who did not suffer from mental health disorders.

Unfortunately, in the U.S., only about 40% of people are treated for their mental health disorders. Treatments can be effective, provided people seek them out.

“Mental illnesses can be managed successfully, and people do recover,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde. “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.”

It can take time to find the right treatment, or combination of treatments, to address what’s going on. If you’re suffering from a mental health problem, major or minor, don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. As more and more people are talking freely about their own experiences, it becomes easier and easier to do, and to get the treatment that could change your life.

The report is published on SAMHSA’s website.