Mental illness is a difficult phrase: It implies that this kind of illness is different from all other kinds of illness. It’s not. It’s a brain-based illness, for the most part. I use the phrase because it is widely understood, not because it is appropriate.
Mental illness is common, and it’s generally episodic. Things get better and then things get worse and then things get better again.
Illness or Individuality?
There are plenty of people who are very shy, or believe in government conspiracies, or are sure that they talked to the dead, or heard directly from God. Does that mean they are mentally ill? Not necessarily.
To one degree or another, many people hold views that are unusual or eccentric. To qualify as mental illness, the behavior must do these things:
- The symptoms must interfere with the person’s ability to have social relationships, go to school or hold down a job, or take care of himself.
- The most severe symptoms must last for at least a month, unless the period is cut short with successful treatment.
- The symptoms are not explained by drug abuse, the side effects of another medication or the impact of another illness.
Is Mental Illness Really Common, Though?
Yes. It may not seem common because it is so often hidden. Here are the facts from NAMI and the World Health Organization:
- About 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. – 43.8 million or 18.5% experience a mental illness in any given year.
- About 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. – 9.8 million or 4% – experiences a serious mental illness in any given year that substantially interferes with or limited one or more major life activities.
- About 1 in 5 children aged 13-18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point. For children aged 8-15, the estimate is 13%.
- 1.1% of adults in the U.S. are on the schizophrenia spectrum.
- 2.6% of adults in the U.S. have bipolar disorder.
- 6.9% of adults in the U.S. – 16 million – had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
- 18.1% of U.S. adults have an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.
- About the 20.2 million adults with a substance use disorder, 50.5% – 10.2 million adults – have a co-occurring mental illness.
- About 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters have a serious mental illness.
- About 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have a recent history of mental illness.
- 70% of youth in juvenile justice systems have at least one mental health conditions and at least 20% have a major mental illness.
- More than 90 percent of children who commit suicide have a mental illness.
- Only 41% of adults with a mental health condition received medical services for it.
- Only half of the children with mental health conditions get help.
- African Americans and Hispanic American use mental health services at about half the rate as Caucasian Americans. Asian Americans get services at about one-third the rate.
- Percentage of people with mental illness that Jesus cared enough about to die for: 100%