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What’s a Reasonable “Take Home” Message About the Mental Illness Study?

separator Even when you account for cultural differences and an increase in the numbers of conditions and syndromes that psychiatrists have added to its manual of mental disorders, there are still some extremely significant things we’ve learned from the NCS-R study:

Mental illness begins early in life. Half of all cases that last a lifetime begin at age 14, and 75 percent begin by age 24. Anxiety disorders often begin in late childhood. Mood disorders tend to develop in late adolescence. Substance abuse tends to begin in the early 20s.

Mental illness affects people in the prime of their life. Many other illnesses are more likely to happen to people who are older. Mental illness, on the other hand, happens to people when they would otherwise be at the most productive phase of their lives.

There are long delays between the onset of a mental illness and the time when treatment begins. These delays can lead to more frequent and more severe episodes. Additionally, the longer a person waits to get treatment, the harder the illness is to treat, and the less effective treatment can become. Social implications can include failure in school, teen childbearing, unstable employment and unstable and violent marriages.

The earlier an illness appears, the less likely a person is to get treatment. In other words, the people who need treatment the most are least likely to get it.

Individuals with one mental disorder are at high risk for having a second one. This is called comorbidity. Forty five percent of the people in the survey who met the criteria for one disorder also met the criteria for one or more additional disorders. And the severity of their conditions was higher when comorbidity was present.

The message for all of us is that if you are experiencing symptoms of a mental disorder, or if you have a child who seems to be having these kinds of symptoms, see your doctor. Treatment can literally change your life, improving your relationships and your ability to use your talents and abilities to your greatest potential.

Read more about depression here. Read about panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias here.

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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