46% of U.S. Residents Affected by Mental Illness During Lifetime, Survey Says
About 46% of U.S. residents have experienced a mental illness at some point in their lives and about 26% experienced a mental illness in the previous year, according to a survey of nearly 10,000 U.S. adults funded by NIH, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (Tanner, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/7). Results of the study, known as the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, are published in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry (Abboud, Wall Street Journal, 6/7).
Researchers held face-to-face interviews with 9,282 U.S. residents ages 18 and older from 2001 to 2003. Participants were asked whether they had experienced extended sadness, alcohol and/or illicit drug abuse, irrational fears or a number of other symptoms. Interviewers asked more detailed questions about specific problems that were mentioned (Carey, New York Times, 6/7).
There are four major categories of mental illness in the survey: anxiety disorders, mood disorders, impulse control disorders and substance abuse (Weiss, Washington Post, 6/7). Researchers excluded rarer conditions, such as schizophrenia and autism.
The following describes some of the study's findings.
- Half of all cases of mental illness start by age 13, and three-fourths start by age 24 (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/7).
- 17% percent of U.S. residents were treated for mental illness over a 12-month period before the survey, up from 13% a decade ago (Washington Post, 6/7).
- One-quarter of U.S. residents had a psychiatric disorder during the 12 months before the survey, down from 28% 10 years prior.
- 40% of people with disorders sought treatment, up from 25% 10 years earlier.
- One-third of people with disorders received at least "minimally adequate" care -- defined as at least two months of appropriate medication and seeing a doctor at least four times or undergoing at least eight psychotherapy sessions of 30 minutes or longer.
- 48.3% of people who went to psychiatrists received "minimally adequate care," compared with 12.7% who visited general physicians.
- 40% of mental illnesses were considered mild cases, 37% were moderate and 22% were serious.
- About 18% of U.S. residents met diagnostic criteria for anxiety disorders during the 12 months prior to the survey.
- 9.5% of U.S. residents were affected by mood disorders during the 12 months prior to the survey.
- 8.9% of U.S. residents were affected by impulse control disorders during the 12 months before the survey (Wall Street Journal, 6/7).
- 6% of U.S. residents had disorders that seriously impaired their daily lives (Elias, USA Today, 6/7).
Ronald Kessler, a Harvard University epidemiologist who led the study, said, "These are disorders of youth." Kessler said, "These illnesses have a fundamental effect on how people's lives turn out," adding, "They are impaired before they have a chance to get their adult life on track."
Myrna Weissman, an epidemiologist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, said, "What's disturbing is that mental illness hasn't gone down, considering all of the treatment that's available" (Talan, Long Island Newsday, 6/7).
Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University, said the survey's estimate that nearly 50% of Americans had suffered from mental illness was inaccurate. McHugh said, "[T]he problem is that the diagnostic manual we are using in psychiatry is like a field guide and it just keeps expanding and expanding" (New York Times, 6/7). An abstract of the study is available online.