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Mental Health Center

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Mental Illness Affects 1 in 5 Americans

Survey Shows Many Mentally Ill Americans Aren’t Getting the Medical Help They Need
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Nov. 18, 2010 -- Nearly one in five adult Americans has experienced mental illness in the past year, according to a new government survey, with women, the unemployed, and young adults more likely than others to be affected.

Among those one in five -- representing 45 million Americans -- the survey found that nearly 20%, or nearly 9 million, also had substance dependence or abuse problems in the previous year.

The results are in the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services.

"It's a sobering report," says Peter Delany, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality at SAMHSA.

Access to care is wanting, with less than four in 10 of those with mental health problems in the past year getting mental health help, the survey found.

Comprehensive Look at Mental Illness in U.S.

"This is the first of its kind," Delany says of the new survey. "This is the first time we have taken a comprehensive view of mental illness on its own."

Estimates of mental illness -- such as major depressive disorder and other mental health problems -- were made based on data from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which polls about 68,700 Americans ages 12 and up.

Other noteworthy findings:

  • Of the nearly 20% of Americans with mental illness in the past year, 11 million of those, or nearly 5%, had what was defined as ''serious mental illness," Delany says. He differentiates mental illness overall from serious mental illness by severity. While both categories met criteria for diagnosis as outlined in the 4th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the lives of those with serious mental illness were more severely impaired.
  • 8.4 million adults had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year; of those, 2.2 million made a plan for killing themselves and 1 million attempted it.
  • Women ages 18 and older were more likely than men 18 and up to have any mental illness, with nearly 24% of women but 15.6% of men reporting mental illness.
  • In 2009, 2 million young people, ages 12 to 17 had major depressive episode; nearly 36% of those used illicit drugs.

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