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New government survey: 20% of Americans suffer from mental illness

Robin Wulffson MD's picture
mental health, mental illness, treatment, substance abuse, stress, depression

WASHINGTON, DC - According to a new government survey, 5% of Americans suffer from a serious mental illness and approximately 20% suffer some sort of mental illness each year. The study was released January 18 by the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (SAMHSA). SAMHSA defines serious mental illness as a disorder that disrupts work, family, or social life.

According to the survey, mental illness is most prevalent in women, young adults, the unemployed and low income individuals. Furthermore, drug and alcohol abuse is more than twice as common in people with mental illness than in those without it and approximately 4% of adults contemplate suicide each year. The survey also reported disturbing statistics regarding treatment. Only about 50% of individuals with any mental illness and only 60% of those with serious mental illness receive treatment each year. Caucasians and Native Americans are more likely to receive treatment than African Americans or Hispanics.

Overall, some 14% of American adults undergo some sort of behavioral care each year; furthermore, about 20% reported that they wanted more. Of those that noted an “unmet need” for mental healthcare, about 40% said they could not afford it.

For adults, the most commonly reported treatment was prescription medicine (12%). Between 2002 and 2010, the percentage of adults receiving outpatient care decreased slightly to 7%; however, the percentage of adults on prescription medication increased.

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The surveyors conducted interviews with about 68,500 randomly selected Americans living at private homes, dormitories, or shelters in 2010. It did not include individuals living on the street, active-duty military personnel, prison inmates, or hospital patients.

The surveyors conducted face-to-face interviews; however, those interviewed answered many of the questions on a computer screen, a technique that has shown to increase openness about sensitive topics. The interviewers were not mental health professionals; however, some of the respondents were interviewed in greater depth by mental healthcare professionals.

The questions were focused on a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, psychosis, and adjustment disorders. Of the approximately 46 million Americans age 18 or who suffered from a mental illness in 2010, 20% also met the criteria for substance abuse. For individuals ages 18 through 25, the rate was 32%t. About 8% of Native Americans had both mental illness and substance abuse; that percentage was twice that of African Americans and Caucasians.

Take home message:
The finding that only about 50% of individuals with any mental illness and only 60% of those with serious mental illness receive treatment each year is indeed unfortunate. With intervention, many of those untreated individuals could be helped substantially. If you suffer from—or know someone who does, be aware that a variety of resources are available throughout the U.S. A simple internet search can locate them. Some insurance plans cover mental healthcare. Many veterans suffer from mental issue after returning from a tour of duty. Help is available to them throughout the United States at Veterans’ Hospitals.

Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health