Trends in Mental Disability


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Dazed and Confused

Startling trends in the field of mental illness:

1 in 5: number of Americans with some sort of mental illness

5: percentage of Americans suffering from such severe mental illness that it interferes with day-to-day school, work or family.

23 vs. 16 percent: Percentage of women, more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness versus men.

2X: [two times]: likelihood of mental illness in young adults versus 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.

Of the 11.4 million, 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.

WOW: Only about 60 percent of people with mental illness get treatment each year.

Think we’re alone?: 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental illnesses.

Consequences of Untreated Mental Disorders in Children and Adolescents


Suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 15 to 24.
More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from: cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.5
Over 90 percent of children and adolescents who commit suicide have a mental disorder.
The US spend nearly $1 billion annually on medical costs associated with completed suicides and suicide attempts by youth up to 20 years of age.8

School Failure

Approximately 50% of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school.

Juvenile and Criminal Justice Involvement

Youth with unidentified and untreated mental disorders also tragically end up in jails and prisons.

Recognizing…early onset: School Daze

44% of students in counseling have severe psychological disorders, up from 16% in 2000. At the same time, 24% are on psychiatric medication, up from 17% a decade ago.

Of the 133 student suicides reported from 320 institutions in 2009, less than half had sought help on campus.


16 percent of prison and jail inmates are seriously mentally ill, roughly 320,000 people. This year, there are about 100,000 psychiatric beds in public and private hospitals. That means there are more than 3 times as many seriously mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals.

2009-2010: Due to the recession, states cut $.35 billion in mental health funding. That leaves 43,000 beds in psychiatric institutions, or 1 bed per 100,000 people, the same ratio as in 1850.

Alarming trends:

In 2010, around 7 million people in the U.S. were “non-medical” users of prescription drugs. This amounts to about 2.7% of the total population.
Estimates of the number of people who have used a prescription drug for a non-medical use are even higher and range to up to 20% of the population.

Drug Abuse:

Painkillers: Opioids such as codeine and morphine are narcotics prescribed to treat pain. Other drugs in this class include oxycodone, Vicodin and Demerol.
CNS depressants/tranquilizers: used to treat anxiety disorders and sometimes for the short-term treatment of insomnia.
Barbiturates: Barbiturates are also central nervous system depressants prescribed to treat insomnia, tension, and anxiety.
Stimulants: Stimulants are sometimes prescribed to treat attention deficit disorder.
Dextromethorphan (DMX): DMX is the active cough suppressant found in cough and cold medications.

Trends we’d like to see:

MORE mental health and addiction treatment programs incorporate nutrition education and other nutritional programs in their treatment of mental illness and addiction.

Very few mental health programs, in-patient or out-patient, allocate resources to nutrition education (or improved food/diet programs)

MORE psychotherapists incorporating treatment methods and techniques that have been shown to work (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, etc.).
MORE faith-based future-therapists entering university programs. Leading to an increase (by educators, administrators, legislators) in tolerance, acceptance, and encouragement.

WoW: Nearly three-fourths of Americans say their whole approach to life is based on religion. But only 32 percent of psychiatrists, 33 percent of clinical psychologists and 46 percent of clinical social workers feel the same.

Understanding that personality differences are not mental illnesses.
MORE people in need accessing appropriate treatment. Although the Internet and other communication technologies have made it easier for people to get help, there is still some lag-time due to finance and insurance issues, education issues, and simply trial and error.

Controversy: Could better mental health care prevent some mass murderer?

Alleged mass murders Aaron Alexis (Washington D.C. Navy yard), Adam Lanza (Newton, Conn.), James Holmes (the theater shooting in Colorado)…could their alleged crimes have been prevented through mental health screening?

Some believe changes in mental health policy and practice that could reduce the incidence of mass murders committed by people with serious mental illness. Recommendations include:

Increased coercive interventions including both involuntary inpatient and involuntary outpatient commitment
Easier admission to inpatient treatment and longer lengths of stay
Requirements that mental health professionals report dangerous patients to criminal justice authorities
Outreach to, and voluntary engagement of, people known to be seriously mentally ill who have dropped out of treatment
More housing for people with serious mental illness
More community mental health services generally so as to increase access to treatment
Increased support for families with frightening mentally ill family members
More screening for mental disorders in primary health care, schools, and social services
Earlier intervention
More primary prevention interventions
Expansion of the mental health workforce.

But, there are critical questions about that, such as:

The rights of Americans who have psychiatric disabilities to live freely in the community if they have not committed a crime or manifested danger to self or others
The long-term impact of involuntary incarceration of people with mental disorders
The effectiveness of court mandated treatment in contrast to outreach and voluntary engagement programs
The assumption that increased coercion will reduce the incidence of criminal violence by people with serious mental illness.
The belief that admission to psychiatric inpatient treatment should be easier and that lengths of stay should be longer is also highly controversial.
Do people generally benefit more from longer or shorter inpatient treatment?
Would more admissions and longer length of stay really result in reduced incidence of murders by people with severe mental illness?

You decide.