Has Mental Illness reached the level of a nationwide crisis? According to statistics laid out by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), nearly 20% of adults in the U.S. experience mental illness in any given year, and 21% of teens experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. Those percentages equate to 1 in 5 adults and/or teenagers who suffer from a mental illness.
Now, combine those numbers with the fact that 4 of the leading 10 causes of disability in the US are mental disorders.¹ Serious mental illness costs the country $193.2 billion dollars in lost earnings each year.² Mental Illness and Mental Health related Disorders may very well have reached critical nationwide levels. And taking in to account that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, mental illness has undoubtedly become a global burden.
Mental Disorders encompass a wide range of conditions which cause changes in a person’s form of thinking and feeling, disrupting the ability to perform daily activities. Some of the more prominent mental health issues include:
- Anxiety Disorder: an unrealistic anxiety which extends over time.
- Dissociative Disorder: disconnection between thoughts and actions ranging from amnesia to alternative identity.
- Eating Disorder: Grossly disturbed eating habits such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: recurrent and repetitive thoughts and behaviors.
- Paranoid Disorder: odd thinking patterns including paranoid suspicions and beliefs.
- Personality Disorder: dysfunctional and rigid thought and behavioral patterns.
- Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): a chronic condition of re-experiencing traumatic events.
- Psychosexual Alterations: Abnormal sexual behaviors cause by psychological concerns.
- Schizophrenia: a group of severe disorders identified by abnormal interpretations of reality.
- Somatoform Disorder: chronic complaints about personal physical health.
- Substance Abuse Disorder: behavioral and physiological changes caused by substance abuse.
Until very recently, general public conception of mental illness has been a stigma. Diagnosis of a mental disorder was associated with shame and embarrassment. Therefore, countless thousands of people suffering from mental disorders remained undiagnosed and untreated for fear of reproach by family and friends. The stigmas reach far back into history when mental or behavioral health issues were frequently associated with demonic or spirit possession. People suffering from mental disorders were often exiled, rejected, even brutalized or killed.
While a trend is slowly emerging which is tipping the scales toward treating mental illness as a brain disease or disorder, much remains to be done in the fields of research, treatment, education, and awareness. Advances in neuroscience now indicate that mental illness may be more of a defective neuronal connection or circuit disorder.³ Just as ALS, Alzheimers Disease and Parkinsons Disease are caused by damaged or ‘misfiring’ neurons, that may also be the case with mental disorders. And early detection of defective brain circuitry can mean earlier preventive and potentially life saving treatments.
May is Mental Health Awareness month, and Mental Health Awareness Week is the first week in October. Campaigns to educate the public and guide people to the realization that mental illness is not a stigma are on the rise. Minding the Elephant was created to destigmatize and bring awareness to mental health issues, and includes several links to pertinent websites. Trends such as 2015’s #IAmStigmaFree have gone viral and are making a global reach on mental health awareness.
Former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy has also brought awareness to Mental Health with his memoir, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction. Kennedy’s book was released on Monday in conjunction with the start of Mental Health Awareness week. His memoir shattered the Kennedy family silence on their battles with mental illness, and has caused a rift within the Kennedy family; however, the former congressman felt highly compelled to break the silence and address the issue head on. Kennedy chronicles his own struggles with substance abuse, anxiety and bipolar disorder, while also addressing the mental health struggles that have afflicted several other members of his family.
And yet the statistics remain staggering. Mood disorders like depression are the third most common cause of hospitalization for people aged 18-44. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the country, and 90% of people who die by suicide have some sort of mental illness. Adults with serious mental illness are at an elevated risk for chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and coronary artery disease which often goes untreated. A devastating effect of this is that NAMI reports the average life span of adults living with serious mental illness is 25 years shorter than a normal lifespan.
1). Mental Disorders in America. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2015 from medicinenet.com
2). Mental Health by the Numbers. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2015 from nami.org
3). Mental Disorders as Brain Disorders. Retrieved Oct. 7, 2015 from nimh.nih.gov