Mental Disorders in America
Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An
estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older or about one in
four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.
When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for
ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people.
Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main
burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion about 6
percent, or 1 in 17 who suffer from a serious mental illness. In
addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the
U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44. Many people suffer from more than one
mental disorder at a given time. Nearly half (45 percent) of those with
any mental disorder meet criteria for two or more disorders, with
severity strongly related to comorbidity.
In the U.S., mental disorders are diagnosed based on the Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV).
Mood disorders include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder,
and bipolar disorder.
- Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent
of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood
- The median age of onset for mood disorders is 30 years.
- Depressive disorders often co-occur with anxiety disorders and
- In 2004, 32,439 (approximately 11 per 100,000) people died by
suicide in the U.S.7
- More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a
diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly a depressive disorder or
a substance abuse disorder.
- The highest suicide rates in the U.S. are found in white men
over age 85.
- Four times as many men as women die by suicide; however, women
attempt suicide two to three times as often as men.
- Approximately 2.4 million American adults, or about 1.1 percent
of the population age 18 and older in a given year, have
- Schizophrenia affects men and women with equal frequency.
- Schizophrenia often first appears in men in their late teens or
early twenties. In contrast, women are generally affected in their
twenties or early thirties.
Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and
phobias (social phobia, agoraphobia, and specific phobia).
- Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or
about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have
an anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety disorders frequently co-occur with depressive disorders
or substance abuse.
- Most people with one anxiety disorder also have another anxiety
disorder. Nearly three-quarters of those with an anxiety disorder
will have their first episode by age 21.5.
- Approximately 6 million American adults ages 18 and older, or
about 2.7 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have
- Panic disorder typically develops in early adulthood (median age
of onset is 24), but the age of onset extends throughout adulthood.
- About one in three people with panic disorder develops
agoraphobia, a condition in which the individual becomes afraid of
being in any place or situation where escape might be difficult or
help unavailable in the event of a panic attack.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Approximately 2.2 million American adults age 18 and older, or
about 1.0 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have
- The first symptoms of OCD often begin during childhood or
adolescence, however, the median age of onset is 19.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Approximately 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, or
about 3.5 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have
- PTSD can develop at any age, including childhood, but research
shows that the median age of onset is 23 years.
- About 19 percent of Vietnam veterans experienced PTSD at some
point after the war. The disorder also frequently occurs after
violent personal assaults such as rape, mugging, or domestic
violence; terrorism; natural or human-caused disasters; and
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Approximately 6.8 million American adults, or about 3.1 percent
of people age 18 and over, have GAD in a given year.
- GAD can begin across the life cycle, though the median age of
onset is 31 years old.
- Approximately 15 million American adults age 18 and over, or
about 6.8 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have
- Social phobia begins in childhood or adolescence, typically
around 13 years of age.
The three main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia
nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
- Females are much more likely than males to develop an eating
disorder. Only an estimated 5 to 15 percent of people with anorexia
or bulimia and an estimated 35 percent of those with binge-eating
disorder are male.
- In their lifetime, an estimated 0.5 percent to 3.7 percent of
females suffer from anorexia, and an estimated 1.1 percent to 4.2
percent suffer from bulimia.
- Community surveys have estimated that between 2 percent and 5
percent of Americans experience binge-eating disorder in a 6-month
- The mortality rate among people with anorexia has been estimated
at 0.56 percent per year, or approximately 5.6 percent per decade,
which is about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all
causes of death among females ages 15-24 in the general population.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- ADHD, one of the most common mental disorders in children and
adolescents, also affects an estimated 4.1 percent of adults, ages
18-44, in a given year.
- ADHD usually becomes evident in preschool or early elementary
years. The median age of onset of ADHD is seven years, although the
disorder can persist into adolescence and occasionally into
Autism is part of a group of disorders called autism spectrum disorders
(ASDs), also known as pervasive developmental disorders. ASDs range in
severity, with autism being the most debilitating form while other
disorders, such as Asperger syndrome, produce milder symptoms.
- Estimating the prevalence of autism is difficult and
controversial due to differences in the ways that cases are
identified and defined, differences in study methods, and changes in
diagnostic criteria. A recent study reported the prevalence of
autism in 3-10 year-olds to be about 3.4 cases per 1000 children.
- Autism and other ASDs develop in childhood and generally are
diagnosed by age three.
- Autism is about four times more common in boys than girls. Girls
with the disorder, however, tend to have more severe symptoms and
greater cognitive impairment.
- AD affects an estimated 4.5 million Americans. The number of
Americans with AD has more than doubled since 1980.
- AD is the most common cause of dementia among people age 65 and
- Increasing age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s. In
most people with AD, symptoms first appear after age 65. One in 10
individuals over 65 and nearly half of those over 85 are affected.
Rare, inherited forms of Alzheimer’s disease can strike individuals
as early as their 30s and 40s.
- From the time of diagnosis, people with AD survive about half as
long as those of similar age without dementia.
Source: National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)