Mental Health in America

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In 2014 alone, about 43.6 million Americans 18 years or older (18.1 percent of the U.S. adult population) experienced some form of mental health problem. Of those individuals, 33.7 million were categorized as having any mental illness (AMI), whereas 9.8 million had a serious mental illness (SMI). Moreover, studies show that about 47.4 percent of Americans will experience a mental health problem during their lives. Sadly, the mental health system is in need of an overhaul, and the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of mental health workers. To learn more, check out this infographic created by Bradley University’s Online Master of Arts in Counseling Program.

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Serious Mental Illness Statistics

At least 5 percent of males and 3.1 percent of females in the U.S. were diagnosed with an SMI in 2014. In terms of ethnicity, 4.4 percent were Caucasians, 3.5 percent were Hispanics/Latin Americans, 3.1 percent were African Americans and 2.4 percent were Asian Americans. Age wise, 4.8 percent were aged between 18 and 25, 5.1 percent were aged 26 to 44 and 4.2 percent were aged 45 to 64, whereas 1.5 percent were aged 65 years or older.

Common Mental Health Problems

To start with, anxiety-related mental health problems such as social anxiety disorder or panic disorder are quite common in the U.S. Women are 60 percent more likely to experience anxiety disorders compared to men. Additionally, the average age when Americans first experience anxiety-related health problems is 11 years, whereas 22.8 percent of those diagnosed with anxiety health issues (4.1 percent of the U.S. adult population) are classified as severe. It also is worth noting that the 12-month prevalence of developing anxiety-related health problems is 18.1 percent across the U.S. adult population.

Besides anxiety disorders, mood disorders such as bipolar, dysthymic and major depressive disorder also affect a large percentage of the American population. Women have a higher risk profile than men. In fact, women are 50 percent more likely to develop mood disorders. Mood disorders generally first appear in childhood or adolescence, and up to 45 percent of all mood disorders, or 4.3 percent of the U.S. adult population, are categorized as severe. The 12-month prevalence for developing mood disorders is 9.5 percent for all American adults.

Unlike mood and anxiety disorders, personality disorders such as borderline, antisocial and avoidant personality disorder do not disproportionately affect a specific gender and there is no average age associated with the onset of symptoms. However, about 9.1 percent of the U.S. adult population is likely to suffer from personality disorders in any given 12-month period.

One of the most common mood disorders is depression, which affects 15.7 million Americans. However, depression is also a common and major mental health issue outside the U.S. affecting up to 350 million people worldwide. Still, depression is a gender disproportionate mental health issue with women twice as likely to experience this condition than men. In fact, 8.2 percent of women are likely to develop depression compared to just 4.28 percent of men. About 6.7 percent of American adults are likely to suffer from depression in any given 12-month period.

Treatment Options

Luckily, many of the mental health issues highlighted above are treatable provided one seeks help from the right health care practitioners. Worryingly, younger Americans are more unlikely to seek health care compared to older adults. For example, only 53.9 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 received care for mental health disorders in 2014, whereas 63.7 percent of Americans ages 25 to 45 received treatment for mental disorders. In that same year, this number was highest among middle-aged Americans with 77.9 percent receiving medical treatment.

Of those individuals who seek medical intervention, females are more likely (72.1 percent) to be treated compared to males (62.1 percent). It is important to note that patients with health insurance are 72.5 percent likely to get treatment, whereas nearly half (47.3 percent) of those without health insurance are unlikely to seek medical help. Thus, it is evident that health insurance plays a crucial role in treating and improving mental health, on both an individual and societal level.

Up to 6.7 million Americans diagnosed with SMI sought and received counseling or treatment throughout 2014. The percentage of patients receiving treatment for mood and personality disorders stands at 36.9 percent for men and 39 percent for women. That rate stands at 50.9 percent for patients suffering from anxiety-related disorders. It also is common for people to experience anxiety-related symptoms when they experience mood disorders.

The Benefits of Seeking Help

While most people have negative views about mental health problems, patients who sought help view their experiences positively. Eighty-two percent of mental health patients who received psychotherapy treatment say they believe it was helpful to some degree. In addition, 75 percent of patients who took medication say the treatment approach was helpful to some extent. At the same time, 85 percent of severely depressed patients who received electroconvulsive therapy responded positively, which means this treatment technique is more effective compared to counseling or taking medications.

Medical researchers have found that cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in treating 82 percent of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Additionally, this therapy also has proved to be highly effective in treating panic disorders as well depression. Neurofeedback is another effective treatment option that generally produces positive results after 15 sessions. Finally, people suffering from schizophrenia should seek medical attention because 50 percent of the patients who receive treatment report improvement, whereas 25 percent experience good recovery over a 10-year period.

Shortage of Mental Health Care Workers

In spite of the glaring need for professionals in the mental health care niche, there is a shortage of qualified personnel globally. For example, although one in every 10 people worldwide suffers from some form of mental health issue, only 1 percent of health sector practitioners specialize in mental health. In the U.S., the Department of Health Resources and Services Administration estimates that there are 4,362 designated mental health professional shortage areas throughout the country. Of concern, these underserved areas are home to 97.9 million Americans. As such, only 47.2 percent of the mental health needs reported in these areas are served adequately.


The state of mental health in the U.S. comprises 43.6 million adults (18 years and older) who suffer from conditions such as depression, borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. Women tend to have a higher likelihood of developing mental disorders than men. Furthermore, there are very few health workers globally who specialize in mental health problems. This statistic suggests that some patients do not receive the treatment or counseling they need when they eventually seek help, and an increasing need for clinical mental health counselors is evident. As we evolve socially we are becoming more and more aware of these critical needs among us.


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