Mental illness on the rise in America

SAN DIEGO, Oct. 16, 2018 — Approximately 1 in 5 American adults will experience some form of mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). This accounts for approximately 44 million U.S. adults, or 18.6 percent of the entire U.S. adult population.

According to NAMI, the current number of American adults stricken with a mental illness is staggering:

  • 1 percent live with schizophrenia
  • 6 percent live with a bipolar disorder
  • 9 percent will experience a major depressive episode
  • 1 percent suffer from an anxiety disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a variety of phobias
  • 7 million adults suffer from substance abuse, with 40.7 percent having a concurrent mental illness


The states of Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, North Dakota and Delaware have the lowest incidences of mental illness in the country, a fact that could be attributed to access to responsive mental health treatment programs.

Having an untreated mental illness could play a significant role in criminal or homicidal behavior, especially if substance abuse or unemployment is also prevalent, according to David Kopel, research director for Independence Institute.

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Admissions to mental hospitals have declined over recent decades, due to decreasing popularity over concerns regarding poor treatment of their inpatients. Conversely, since the 1950s there has been a significant increase within prison populations of inmates with mental illnesses.

According to Kopel, reducing the human and financial costs of violent crimes caused by those with mental illnesses is critical, and “90 days in a mental hospital might avoid the need for 10 years in prison.”

Approximately 15 percent of state prisoners and 24 percent of jail inmates likely have a psychotic disorder, according to the Department of Justice in a story by Ana Swanson and published in the Washington Post.
The ability to provide early identification and intervention for those displaying symptoms that might be indicative of mental illness would be a big step towards compassionate recovery and crime prevention.

Crime in America has become a highly politicized and polarizing issue.
Often, when tragedy strikes, social and political leaders seize the opportunity to bring their viewpoints to the national stage in order to further their own ideology.

As Americans come to terms with the prevalence of mental illness, there is a chance to create sound and realistic policies that move away from historically negative stigma and ideology and move toward both individual and national healing opportunities.

Creating more avenues for appropriate reporting of any suspected mental illness and requiring mandatory, compassionate treatment for those who are diagnosed would be a major step forward to helping solve the country’s current mental health crisis.

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There are undeniable gaps in the mental health system that need to be bridged.
Sue Abderholden, MPHA, executive director of NAMI Minnesota, offers the following ideas, which would make crossing the bridge from mental illness to mental health easier, while simultaneously building safer communities.

  • Adequate availability of psychiatrists and mental health providers
  • No waiting lists for community services and inpatient treatment options
  • A 24-hour crisis team in every community
  • Employment and housing options
  • Effective case management and care coordination among mental health professional and organizations
  • Treatment programs for those with dual diagnoses
  • Opportunities for screening and early intervention
  • Unlimited access to mental health treatment

Early identification of a mental illness and access to appropriate treatment options is a sound, compassionate approach towards facilitating individual healing and making American communities much safer.

Until next time, enjoy the ride in good health!