Prevalence of Mental Disorders in the United States

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Mental disorders are fairly common and often go untreated. This lesson will examine the prevalence of mental disorders in the United States, and will end with a short quiz.

What are Mental Disorders?

Do you know anyone with mental illness? Chances are that you do, even if you are not aware of it. Everyone experiences sadness and stress, but these things can become disorders when felt in excess.

Let's take a closer look with an example. John has been feeling sad for the past couple of months since an unexpected breakup. Last week, he lost his job. He also found out that his mother has cancer. John has completely lost his appetite. He has not showered in days. He sleeps 14 hours a day, and has been considering suicide because he feels so overwhelmed by life.

Clearly, John needs immediate help. The everyday stressors of life have reached a point where he is not able to deal with them. John's situation has become something that is taking over his life. It is likely that John has developed clinical depression, a common mental disorder that can be very dangerous if not treated.

Clinical depression is a mental disorder that is characterized by prolonged periods of profound sadness paired with symptoms such as changes in sleep and eating patterns. Other common mental disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, where feelings of stress and worry become pervasive in the individual's life, and bipolar disorder, where extreme mood changes range from depressed episodes to manic episodes.

Clinical Depression is a Common Mental Disorder
clinical depression

Mental disorders occur when an individual experiences ongoing maladaptive emotions or behaviors. Maladaptive emotions and behaviors cause personal distress, prevent the person from living a normal life, and place that person and possibly those around him at risk.

Prevalence of Mental Illness in the US

Earlier, you were asked to think about someone you may know with a mental illness. It can be tough to do, as most people don't broadcast their mental disorders to others. Because of the secrecy that often surrounds mental illness, and due to the fact that many people go undiagnosed, it is very difficult to know the exact prevalence.

Prevalence refers to the number of people who are affected by something. In the case of mental illness, it has been estimated that roughly one out of five people in the United States suffers from some sort of mental disorder. Some organizations estimate that the rate of prevalence is even higher, with one out of four people being afflicted. Recent figures published by the National Institutes of Health estimated that nearly 44 million adults and twenty percent of all children were suffering from a mental disorder in 2012.

How Do We Measure Prevalence?

As mentioned above, most people are not very willing to label themselves with a mental disorder. This is because of the stigma associated with it. Stigma is the term for the negative view or label that is given to a condition like mental illness.

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