Research Pad Search this site Flag this page Print this page

General impact

It is estimated that one in every four families in the United States has at least one member currently suffering from a mental or behavioral disorder. The burden on families ranges from economic difficulties to emotional reactions to the illness, the stress of coping with disturbed behavior. The family bears the expenses for the treatment of mental illness either because insurance doesn't include mental disorders or because of absence of insurance.

In the United States, researchers estimate that about 24 percent of people 18 or older, or about 44 million adults, experience a mental illness or substance-related disorder during the course of any given year. The most common of these disorders are depression, alcohol dependence (see alcoholism), and various phobias (irrational fears of things or situations). An estimated 2.6 percent of adults in the United States, or about 4.8 million people, suffer from a severe and persistent mental illness - such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or a severe form of depression or panic disorder - in any given year. An additional 2.8 percent of adults, or about 5.2 million people, experience a mental illness that seriously interferes with one or more aspects of their daily life, such as their ability to work or relate to other people. All of these figures exclude people who are homeless and those living in prisons, nursing homes, or other institutions - populations that have high rates of mental illness.

International surveys have demonstrated that from 30 to 40 percent of people in a given population experience a mental illness during their lives. These surveys also reveal that anxiety disorders are usually even more common than depression.

A number of studies provide evidence that rates of depression are rising throughout the world. The reasons may be related to such factors as economic change, political and social violence, and cultural disruptions. While some have questioned these findings, dramatic increases in the numbers of refugees and people dislocated from their homes by economic forces or civil strife are associated with great increases in a variety of mental illnesses for those populations. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of refugees worldwide increased from 2.5 million in 1971 to 13.2 million in 1996, peaking at 17 million in 1991.