Mental illness is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of diagnosable conditions that have in common some sort of disruption in thinking, feeling, behaving, and/or interacting with others. Though we will be focusing on the prevalence of mental illness in America in today’s blog, it is important to consider how many more individuals experience mental health concerns that simply don’t meet DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for a particular disorder. Bottom line, the prevalence of mental health problems is great. In the United States alone, nearly 50 million people age 18 or older have a mental illness in any given year. These stats are alarming and lead one to wonder what could be done to reduce the number of people who suffer from mental illness. From anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and eating disorders, there are many different types of mental illnesses. Thankfully, with increased awareness about them as well as their treatment options for each, more people can get the help they need today than ever before. Read on for more information about the prevalence of mental illness in America, why it’s imperative we continue to destigmatize mental health struggles, and what you can do to help your mental health. 



What Exactly is Mental Illness?

As previously described, mental illness is a broad term that refers to a diagnosable condition that affects a person’s brain and the way they think, feel, or act. Examples include mood disorders (e.g. major depression and bipolar disorder), anxiety disorders (e.g. social anxiety disorder and specific phobias), eating disorders (e.g. anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa), and substance use disorders (e.g. alcohol use disorder). Those suffering from mental illness often experience reduced quality of life, moderate to intense impairment, and increased lifetime risk of disability. A mental illness is not a character flaw, nor is it a sign of weakness. In fact, it is as common as any chronic medical condition, like diabetes or heart disease. Just like these other diseases, mental illnesses can be diagnosed, treated, and effectively managed.


Mental Health Statistics in America

Mental HeWhat percentage of Americans suffer from a mental illness? How many people have an anxiety disorder? How many struggle with depression? It’s hard to know because not everyone is willing to talk about it. But the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that 1 in 5 adults in the US experience some form of mental illness in a given year, and that number is similarly high in US youth (aged 6-17) at 1 in 6. In case you need more convincing about the severity of the mental health crisis America is facing, here are just a few of the poignant statistics from Mental Health America’s (MHA) 2022 adult data: 

  • 19.86% (about 50 million) of adults are experiencing a mental illness 
  • 4.91% are experiencing a severe mental illness.
  • 7.74% of adults in America reported having a substance use disorder in the past year (2.97% associated with illicit drug use and 5.71% associated with alcohol use)
  • Rates of substance use continue to increase for adults about 0.07% each year. 
  • The percentage of adults reporting serious thoughts of suicide is 4.58% (about 11.4 million), which is an increase of 664,000 people from last year’s data set.
  • The national rate of suicidal ideation among adults has increased every year since 2011.
  • Over half (56%) of adults with a mental illness receive no treatment. This reflects over 27 million Americans.

To further stress the prevalence of mental health crisis all around us, here are key findings from MHA’s 2022 youth data: 

  • 15.08% of youth (age 12-17) report suffering from at least one major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year – a number that increased by 306,000 (1.24%) from last year’s dataset.
  • 10.6% (over 2.5 million) of youth cope with severe major depression – a number that increased by 197,000 from last year’s dataset.
  • 4.08% of youth in the U.S. reported having a substance use disorder in the past year (3.16% associated with illicit drug use and 1.64% with alcohol use).
  • Rates of substance use continue to increase for youth about 0.25% each year. 
  • 60.3% of youth with major depression do not receive any mental health treatment.
  • Even among the states with greatest access for youth, 1 in 3 youth are still not receiving the mental health services they need.


It is important to note that many of these figures only reflect formally diagnosed mental illness, but significant – yet undiagnosed – mental health struggles affect so many more around us. NAMI reports that only about 20% of people with a significant mental health concern develop or are diagnosed with an actual disorder. Also, the average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and diagnosis/treatment is 11 years, which suggests the number of those currently struggling with their mental health is much higher than just those formally diagnosed.


Why We Need to Reduce the Stigma

While nearly 50 million Americans continue to struggle with a mental condition in 2022, the MHA annual report found more than half did not receive treatment. Though awareness surrounding mental health continues to rise, the stigma around mental illness is centuries old, and it persists today in many parts of society. Inaccurate representations of mental illness portrayed by the media – as well as centuries of transferred generational beliefs – help keep the stigma alive by perpetuating false information and stereotypes. Check out our last blog on how social media may be affecting your mental health. The social stigma and judgment people living with mental health disorders often fear can lead them to avoid seeking the help they need. Not only does this often result in worsening mental health, but people often aren’t aware of other significant ways untreated mental health can deteriorate a person’s life. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), the following are just a few of the less obvious ways poor mental health affects those with mental illness and the world around them. 

  • Those with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions.
  • 32.1% of US adults with mental illness also developed a substance use disorder in 2020. 
  • Adolescents with significant depressive symptoms are more than twice as likely to drop out of school compared to their peers.
  • Students ages 6-17 struggling with mental, emotional, or behavioral concerns are 3x more likely to repeat a grade than their peers.
  • Caregivers of adults with mental or emotional health issues spend an average of 32 hours per week providing unpaid care.
  • Mental illness and substance use disorders are involved in 1 of every 8 emergency department visits.
  • Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy approximately $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. 
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.  


Ways to Protect and Improve Your Mental Health

Life is filled with everyday stressors, and for some people, it is easy to brush them off. If you or someone you know is experiencing prolonged difficulty coping with life’s challenges, it’s important to seek help from a mental health professional. Don’t wait until things get worse before seeking help – the sooner a mental health concern is treated, the better chance a person has at fully recovering. Make note of changes in mood, behavior, or thinking patterns you may be exhibiting. Some common signs of worsening mental health include withdrawing from friends and family, feeling negative more often, having little interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, difficulty with concentration or memory, feelings of hopelessness or guilt, sleep difficulties, and increasing substance use. Remember, you don’t need to have a diagnosable mental illness to seek help from a mental health professional. In fact, it benefits you to seek their help before it reaches that point if you can recognize the signs of your worsening mental health. There are a few different ways that you can seek help for a mental health concern. You can: 

  • Talk to your doctor. Your primary care doctor can screen you for mental health disorders and can also provide referrals to mental health professionals if necessary. 
  • Meet with a therapist and/or psychiatrist. A therapist can provide further mental health screenings and counseling. Some of the most common treatments therapists provide for a wide-array of mental health concerns or disorders are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).  
  • Contact a mental health hotline. If you’re not sure whether or not you need professional help, or if you just want someone to talk to, you can call a mental health hotline like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 


In addition to professional help, there are many things that you can do on your own to protect and maintain good mental health. Some examples include: 

  • Getting regular exercise. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial for people with mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety. It can also help improve sleep and increase energy levels. 
  • Eating a healthy diet. Eating healthy foods helps improve mood and energy levels, and can also help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
  • Getting enough sleep. Sleep plays an important role in overall physical and mental health. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to function at their best during the day. 
  • Connecting with others. Spending time with friends and family, volunteering, or joining a club or group can help reduce isolation and loneliness, which can trigger or worsen mental health problems. 
  • Practicing relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing can help reduce stress and promote feelings of calmness and wellbeing. Read our blog on mindfulness and meditation!
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MHA Staff. (2022). Adult Ranking 2022. Mental Health America. 
MHA Staff. (2022). The State of Mental Health in America. Mental Health America. 
MHA Staff. (2022). Youth Ranking 2022. Mental Health America. 
NAMI Staff. (June 2022). Mental Health By the Numbers. National Alliance on Mental Illness. 
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