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US Needs to Better Support the Millions of Americans with Mental Illness


According to new report issued by the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental illness among adults is a growing concern in the United States. Approximately one-fourth of American adults have a mental illness, and nearly half will develop at least one during their lifetime. This important public health problem needs more attention to improve both treatment and prevention.

Mental Illness Will Affect Half the Adult Population

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to related to others and daily functioning. They can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income and includes such serious disorders as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that mental illnesses account for more disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses. The disease not only affects the mind, but also exacerbates morbidity from the multiple chronic diseases with which it is associated. These include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.

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For the report, entitled “Mental Illness Surveillance Among Adults in the United States,” William C. Reeves MD of the Public Health Surveillance Program Office, and colleagues reviewed the results of multiple studies that measured the prevalence and impact of mental illness in the US. These studies included both population surveys such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and national health-care surveys such as the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS).

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Depression is often a major focus of population surveys of mental illness. Using two surveillance systems, the CDC found that the rate of depression among American adults ranges from 6.8% to 8.7%. Women and non-Hispanic blacks have higher rates compared with other groups, and the prevalence of depression is generally higher in the southeastern states with the highest rates found in Mississippi and West Virginia.

Anxiety disorders are as common in the population as depression, but surveys attempting to collect data are often insufficient. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions estimates that 14% of US adults had an anxiety disorder including specific phobias, social phobias, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

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Ileana Arias PhD, the principle deputy director of the CDC , said, “We know that mental illness is an important public health problem. The report's findings indicate that we need to expand surveillance activities that monitor levels of mental illness in the United States in order to strengthen our prevention efforts."

Pamela S. Hyde, administrator of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), concurs saying “This new CDC study combined with SAMHSA's latest surveillance data provides a powerful picture of the impact of mental illness on public health. People with mental disorders should seek help with the same urgency as any other health condition. Treatment and support services are effective and people do recover."

Source Reference: “Mental Illness Surveillance Among Adults in the Unites States”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), September 2, 2011/60(03); 1-32.

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