Mental Illness

What Is Mental Illness?

1. Mental illness is a highly prevalent, life-threatening disease that affects millions of people all around the world.

  • Mental illness does not discriminate: it strikes people of all ethnic groups and economic brackets.1
  • Over 44 million people in the U.S. – one in five adults – suffer from a mental health disorder in a given year3, and over 5 million people are disabled by severe mental illness.2
  • Two new cases of mental illness occur in the U.S. every second of every day – 60 million new cases each year.3
Sources: 1World Health Organization. 2National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI). 3Excerpt from The Numbers Count, National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

2. Mental illness strikes the young and often goes undiagnosed and untreated for many years.

  • Half of those who will ever be diagnosed with a mental disorder show signs of the disease by age 14, three-quarters by age 25.1
  • Few get help: in recent years, about 80% of serious cases went untreated in poor countries, 35-40% in richer countries.1
  • There are pervasive delays in getting treatment: the median across disorders is nearly a decade, contributing to a greater severity, co-occurrence of mental illnesses, and lower success rates as people age.1
Source: 1Prevalence, Severity, and Unmet Need for Treatment of Mental Disorders, World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys, June 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association.

3. Mental illness threatens lives everywhere.

  • Mental disorders are associated with over 90% of all reported suicide cases.1
  • In America, more people die from suicide than cancer, homicide1, or HIV/AIDS. In 2001, there were twice as many deaths due to suicide than from HIV/AIDS.2
  • Suicide claims the lives of a significant number of people with serious mental illness:
    • One in ten people suffering from schizophrenia will commit suicide.3
    • One in five people suffering from bipolar disorder will commit suicide.4
Sources: 1World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control. 2National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI). 3Treatment Advocacy Center. 4Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

4. Mental illness has a significant impact on human productivity.

  • Major depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide among persons aged five or older.1
  • Four of the ten leading causes of disability in developed countries are mental disorders (major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder).2
  • Around the world, mental illness causes as many lost days of work as any physical problem such as cancer, heart attack or back pain.3
  • Mental illness, including suicide, accounts for over 15% of the lost years of healthy life, also known as Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYS) – more than all cancers and second only to all cardiovascular conditions.1
Sources: 1National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI). 2World Health Organization.3Prevalence, Severity, and Unmet Need for Treatment of Mental Disorders, World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys, June 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association.

5. Mental illness has a staggering impact on the global economy.

  • Studies from Europe1 have estimated that expenditures on mental disorders as a proportion of all health service costs are very high – 23% in The Netherlands and 22% in the U.K.2
  • In 1990, costs related to mental illness in the U.S. were already significant3:
    • Indirect costs for mental disorders totaled $79 billion – 80% of these costs stemmed from mortality costs.
    • Major depression cost an estimated $23 billion in lost workdays.
    • One study concluded that the aggregate yearly cost of mental disorders accounted for about 2.5% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product4.
Sources: 1Meading et al., 1998; Patel and Knapp, 1998. 2For the UK., the figure is for inpatient expense only. 3NCQA – Measuring the Quality of America’s Health Care. 4The World Health Report, Rice et al., 1990.

6. There are inadequate resources available for combating mental illness, despite its huge impact on human productivity and life.

  • At the government level, mental diseases account for 12% of the global burden of disease, but the mental healthcare budgets of most countries are less than 1% of total healthcare expenditures.1
  • At the philanthropic level:
    • Around the world, the stigma associated with mental illness creates a vicious cycle of alienation and discrimination that results in social and political isolation and inadequate treatment approaches and resources within the community.
    • Despite a higher death rate, mental illnesses receiver a fraction of the charitable donations made to combat cancer or HIV/AIDS.
Source: 1World Health Organization.

7. There is hope for people living with mental illness.

  • People can regain their mental health, but not with medication alone.
  • People with mental illness are successfully participating in society through a combination of medication, community support services and relationships that ease the way from isolation to full participation in life.
  • Thousands of good examples exist around the world of people with mental illness not merely integrated into their communities, but playing a socially productive and economically important role.1
  • The emergence of Clubhouses and other rehabilitation services in many countries around the world demonstrates through a growing body of evidence that people with mental illness can successfully participate in society through education, employment and other social activities.1
Source: 1World Health Organization.

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