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The State of America’s Mental Health and Its Treatment

separator Earlier in the summer, headlines appeared saying that about half of all Americans will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives. The incidence of mental illness has been increasing gradually, from 20 to 30 percent in the 1950s. This information came from a study that showed 25 percent of Americans had met the criteria for mental illness within the past year. And, according to the study, of that 25 percent, one quarter said their disorder was serious enough to disrupt their day-to-day ability to function.

There are similar studies being conducted in 27 other countries. Preliminary reports indicate that the U.S. is likely to rank number one for incidence of mental illness.

The study is sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s called the National Comorbidity Survey Replication study. It’s the third one of its kind. The first was conducted in 1984.

There were four primary categories of mental illness investigated in the survey:

  • Anxiety disorders—such as panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, etc.
  • Mood disorders—such as major depression, bipolar disease
  • Impulse control disorders—such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Substance abuse

It left out the more serious mental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia.

To conduct the survey, 300 trained interviewers knocked on the doors of 9,282 English-speaking people aged 18 or older. Interviewees were selected at random. Interviews took place in 34 states over a year-and-a-half period. The interviewers visited people at all hours of the day and night, in order not to miss people who worked the night shift or who were out at night, people with episodes of depression who might go for weeks without answering the door and people with social phobia, who might rarely answer the door.

Why is more mental illness being reported in the U.S. than ever before?
Many researchers believe it’s not necessarily that our mental states have changed so much over the years, but that our understanding of mental illness has changed. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association’s first diagnostic manual included about 60 disorders. The current edition has about 300. These include conditions such as sexual arousal disorder, kleptomania and a disorder called hyposomnia, or oversleeping. In other words, many more conditions have been identified and given names than ever before, so it’s natural that surveys will show results indicating that the numbers have gone up.

Archives of General Psychiatry, 6 June 2005; National Institute of Mental Health, National Comorbidity Survey Replication; A Kleinman and B Good, Culture and Depression: Studies in the Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Psychiatry of Affect and Disorder, University of California Press, 1985; The New York Times, “Who’s Mentally Ill? Deciding is Often All in the Mind,” 12 June 2005; The Washington Post, “U.S. Leads in Mental Illness, Lags in Treatment,” 7 June 2005
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