Mental Health Issues Affect Half Of America
September 6, 2011

Mental Health Issues Affect Half Of America


Nearly half of all Americans will suffer from some form of mental health problems at some point in their life, according to a new report released last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mental illnesses include everything from depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to suicide, and many people suffering do not get the help they need, experts say, noting that more needs to be done.

Mental illnesses account for a larger proportion of disability in developed countries than any other group of illnesses, including cancer and heart disease. There are “unacceptably high levels of mental illness in the United States,” Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the CDC, told HealthDay.

“Essentially, about 25 percent of adult Americans reported having a mental illness in the previous year. In addition to the high level, we were surprised by the cost associated with that -- we estimated about $300 billion in 2002,” she said, adding that the high cost includes care for the illness and lost productivity.

It remains unclear why so many Americans suffer from mental illness, Arias said. “This is an issue that needs to be addressed,” she added, not only because of the illness itself, but because mental disorders are associated with chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.

And while having a mental illness is hard enough, the shame that sufferers often feel with such diagnoses adds to the burden, according to experts.

“Mental illness is frequently seen as a moral issue or an issue of weakness,” explained Arias to Steven Reinberg of HealthDay. “It is a condition no different from cancer or other chronic diseases. People need to accept the difficulties they are having and avail themselves of the resources that are available.”

The report, published on September 2 along with the CDC´s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is based on several population surveys and studies within the healthcare system that measures the occurrence of mental illness, associated risk behaviors -- such as drug and alcohol abuse -- and chronic conditions, and use of mental health-related care and clinical services.

One particular survey done in 2009 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 11 million people in the US -- roughly 5 percent of the population -- experienced serious mental illness during the past year. In addition, they found that some 8.4 million Americans had suicidal thoughts in the past year and 2.2 million made plans to carry out the suicidal thoughts. The survey also found that one million of those people had attempted suicide.

Information obtained from other sources confirmed these numbers, with slight variation, the report said.

The CDC also used data from their 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey which indicated that 6.8 percent of adults in the study had moderate to severe depression in the 2 weeks prior to completing the survey.

Data from the CDC 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) also indicated that the prevalence of moderate to severe depression was generally higher in southeastern states compared to other states.

Two other CDC surveys on ambulatory care services -- the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey -- indicated that during 2007 to 2008, about 5 percent of ambulatory care visits involved patients with a diagnosis of a mental disorder. Most of these cases were classified as depression, psychoses, or anxiety disorders.

The CDC report states that future surveillance should pay close attention to changes in the prevalence of depression both nationwide and at state and county levels. Also, national and state-level mental illness surveillance should measure a wider range of psychiatric conditions and should include anxiety disorders. Most mental illnesses can be managed successfully, and increasing access to and use of mental health treatment services could substantially reduce the associated morbidity.

But Dr. John Newcomer, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, believes the problem may be much worse than the CDC report indicates.

For example, state Medicaid programs spend a lot of money on drugs to treat mental illnesses, which the CDC didn´t take into account, Newcomer noted. “For several years the top three drugs were antipsychotic drugs,” he told Reinberg.

Also, many people who have mental health disorders hide it from other people, he added. The CDC report looked at only those already in the healthcare system. “There is a big problem with underdiagnosis and undertreatment,” he argued.

Healthy living -- getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising -- can help people avoid some mental health illnesses, according to Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“Understanding how to deal with psychological stresses is also important,” he told Reinberg. “How to deal with emotional reactivity and stress tolerances are also important skills to develop early in life.”

Manevitz said people should always seek help for mental health issues whenever they are not feeling well, are not functioning properly, and isolating themselves from the outside world.


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