1 in 5 Americans Suffers From Mental Illness

One in five Americans experienced some sort of mental illness in 2010, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. About 5 percent of Americans have suffered from such severe mental illness that it interfered with day-to-day school, work or family.

Women were more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness than men (23 percent of women versus 16.9 percent of men), and the rate of mental illness was more than twice as likely in young adults (18 to 25) than people older than 50.

About 11.4 million adult Americans suffered from severe mental illness in the past year and 8.7 million adults contemplated serious thoughts of suicide. Among them, more than 2 million made suicide plans and about 1 million attempted suicide.

Nearly 2 million teens, or 8 percent of the adolescent population, experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. The research defined a major episode as at least a two-week period when a person is depressed with a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, while also experiencing at least four of seven symptoms defined in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Only about 60 percent of people with mental illness get treatment each year, according to the report, and whites and Native Americans were more likely to seek help than African-Americans, Latinos and Asians.

Researchers drew the findings from nearly 70,000 surveys on mental health and addiction among children and adults.

"Mental illnesses can be managed successfully, and people do recover," Pamela S. Hyde, head  of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said in a news release. "Mental illness is not an isolated public health problem. Cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity often co-exist with mental illness and treatment of the mental illness can reduce the effects of these disorders. The Obama Administration is working to promote the use of mental health services through health reform. People, families and communities will benefit from increased access to mental health services."

Dessa Bergen-Cico, assistant professor of public health, food studies and nutrition at Syracuse University in New York, said there are several aspects of mental health treatment that should be improved in this country, including better access to preventive mental health care, which should include coverage for evidence-based prevention, intervention programs and counseling. An example of such a program is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight-week secular mindfulness and meditation training program that teaches and prepares people to develop lifelong skills for dealing with anxiety, stress depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic illness.

"Despite legislation calling for coverage of mental health and addictions, not much has changed in insurance coverage for prevention or treatment," Bergen-Cico said. "Whereas health care providers are readily prepared to practice medicine, [and] by this I mean write appropriate prescriptions for medication to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc., they are not trained as counselors and do not and should not fill that role."

Mental illness cost about $300 billion in 2002 alone in the United States, according to the report.

"What is missing is the approach to mental health problems with a comprehensive ongoing strategy much like what we do for physical injury for which health care providers commonly employ a robust treatment that in addition to surgery would include any or all of the following: physical therapy, medication, preventative education and long term follow-up," Bergen-Cico said.