Mental Illness in the United States
The burden of mental illness in the United States is among the highest of all diseases, and mental disorders are among the most common causes of disability.
Recent figures suggest that, in 2004, approximately 1 in 4 adults in the United States had a mental health disorder in the past year—most commonly anxiety or depression—and 1 in 17 had a serious mental illness. Mental health disorders also affect children and adolescents at an increasingly alarming rate; in 2010, 1 in 5 children in the United States had a mental health disorder, most commonly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is not unusual for either adults or children to have more than one mental health disorder.
Mental health is essential to a person’s well-being, healthy family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to live a full and productive life. People, including children and adolescents, with untreated mental health disorders, are at high risk for many unhealthy and unsafe behaviors, including alcohol or drug abuse, violent or self-destructive behavior, and suicide—the 11th leading cause of death in the United States for all age groups and the second leading cause of death among people age 25 to 34.
Mental health disorders also have a serious impact on physical health and are associated with the prevalence, progression, and outcome of some of today’s most pressing chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Mental health disorders can have harmful and long-lasting effects—including high psychosocial and economic costs—not only for people living with the disorder, but also for their families, schools, workplaces, and communities.
Fortunately, a number of mental health disorders can be treated effectively, and prevention of mental health disorders is a growing area of research and practice. Early diagnosis and treatment can decrease the disease burden of mental health disorders as well as associated chronic diseases. Assessing and addressing mental health remains important to ensure that all Americans lead longer, healthier lives.
Health Impact of Mental Health
Mental health and physical health are inextricably linked. Evidence has shown that mental health disorders—most often depression—are strongly associated with the risk, occurrence, management, progression, and outcome of serious chronic diseases and health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
This association appears to be caused by mental health disorders that precede chronic disease; chronic disease can intensify the symptoms of mental health disorders—in effect creating a cycle of poor health. This cycle decreases a person’s ability to participate in the treatment of and recovery from mental health disorders and chronic disease. Therefore, while efforts are underway to reduce the burden of death and disability caused by chronic disease in the United States, simultaneously improving mental health nationwide is critical to improving the health of all Americans.
Mental Health Across the Life Stages
Mental health disorders are a concern for people of all ages, from early childhood through old age.
Children and Adolescents
- Approximately 20% of U.S. children and adolescents are affected by mental health disorders during their lifetime. Often, symptoms of anxiety disorders emerge by age 6, behavior disorders by age 11, mood disorders by age 13, and substance use disorders by age 15.
- 15% of high school students have seriously considered suicide, and 7% have attempted to take their own life.
- Mental health disorders among children and adolescents can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug abuse, family discord, violence, and suicide.
- It is estimated that only about 17% of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health.
- An estimated 26% of Americans age 18 and older are living with a mental health disorder in any given year, and 46% will have a mental health disorder over the course of their lifetime.
- Almost 15% of women who recently gave birth reported symptoms of postpartum depression.1
- Alzheimer’s disease is among the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. It is the 6th leading cause of death among American adults and the 5th leading cause of death for adults age 65 years and older.
- Among nursing home residents, 18.7% of people age 65 to 74, and 23.5% of people age 85 and older have reported mental illness.
Determinants of Mental Health
Several factors have been linked to mental health, including race and ethnicity, gender, age, income level, education level, sexual orientation, and geographic location. Other social conditions—such as interpersonal, family, and community dynamics, housing quality, social support, employment opportunities, and work and school conditions—can also influence mental health risk and outcomes, both positively and negatively. For example, safe shared places for people to interact, such as parks and churches, can support positive mental health. A better understanding of these factors, how they interact, and their impact is key to improving and maintaining the mental health of all Americans.
1Reeves WC, Strine TW, Pratt LA, et al. Mental illness surveillance among adults in the United States. MMWR. 2011;60(3):1–32. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/su6003a1.htm?s_cid=su6003a1_w
4Division of Adult and Community Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Public Health Action Plan To Integrate Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention with Chronic Disease Prevention, 2011–2015. Atlanta, GA: 2011. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/docs/11_220990_Sturgis_MHMIActionPlan_FI… [PDF – 829KB]
5Chapman DP, Perry GS, Strine TW. The vital link between chronic disease and depressive disorders. Preventing Chronic Disease. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2005. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2005/jan/04_0066.htm