Expert Commentary

What is the rate of mental illness in the United States?

2012 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report mental illness rates across the population.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) periodically offers data and insights on mental health and related concerns across the population.

In 2012, DHHS issued an updated report, “2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings,” which was based on face-to-face survey interviews with 68,487 randomly selected Americans during 2010.

The study’s findings include:

  • An estimated 20% of U.S. adults (approximately 45.9 million people) had some form of mental illness during 2010. An estimated 5% of adults (11.4 million people) had a serious mental illness.
  • Among young adults ages 18 to 25, the estimated prevalence of mental illness of any kind was 29.9%. For Americans age 50 and above, the prevalence was 14.3%.
  • Adult women were more likely than men to have some form of mental illness (23% versus 16.8%) or serious mental illness (6.5% versus 3.4%).
  • In 2010, an “estimated 8.7 million adults (3.8%) aged 18 or older had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year. Among adults aged 18 or older, 2.5 million (1.1%) made suicide plans in the past year, and 1.1 million (0.5%) attempted suicide in the past year.” In addition, the “percentage of college-aged adults (i.e., those aged 18 to 22) who had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year was higher in 2010 (7.3%) than in 2009 (6.3%). In 2010, full-time college students aged 18 to 22 were less likely than other adults aged 18 to 22 to have serious thoughts of suicide (6.5% vs. 7.8%).”
  • Of the estimated 45.9 million adults with mental illness in 2010, some 20% (9.2 million) met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse, compared to a rate of 6.1% (11.2 million) among those who did not have mental illness.
  • Among young people ages 12 to 17, an estimated 8% (1.9 million youths) had major depressive episodes during 2010; of those 1.9 million afflicted youth, 37.2% used illicit drugs, compared to 17.8% among youths who did not have a major depressive episode.
  • In 2010, 2.9 million youths (12.2%) “received treatment or counseling for problems with emotions or behavior in a specialty mental health setting (inpatient or outpatient care). The most common reason for receiving specialty mental health services among youths was feeling depressed (47.6%).”
  • The survey results suggested significant gaps in rates of treatment and access to care: “Among the 45.9 million adults with mental illness, more than 60% had not received mental health services in the past year…. The most common barrier to receiving treatment among these adults was the inability to afford the cost of mental health care (43.7%).”

Though a variety of survey and sampling techniques were employed to ensure the statistical validity of results, the researchers noted that the surveys were carried out by “nonclinically trained interviewers.” Furthermore, the study excluded “persons with no fixed household address (e.g., homeless and/or transient persons not in shelters), active-duty military personnel and residents of institutional group quarters, such as correctional facilities, nursing homes, mental institutions and long-term hospitals.”

Tags: children, youth, mental health