Data and Statistics: The Prevalence of Mental Illness
Determining how many people have a form of mental illness really depends on how a specific organization or person defines the term mental illness. Different designations of what actually constitutes a specific manifestation of mental illness will result in different estimates of the prevalence of mental illness. In the United States, the foremost organization identified with developing diagnostic criteria for different forms of mental illness is the American Psychiatric Association (APA), so this article will limit its discussion of the prevalence of mental illness to figures gathered by the APA regarding its specific designations of the different forms of mental illness. Other organizations, such as the World Health Organization (WHO), may present with different types of criteria and may have slightly different figures.
It is also important to understand that there are many critics who find the very notion of a mental illness as a socially constructed category that has no biological foundation. There is actually some relevance to this point as the majority of psychiatric diagnoses have no formal medical tests that are designed to be used in their diagnosis. Instead, mental illness is diagnosed by behavioral observations. This has led to the notion that many normal behaviors are medicalized by organizations, such as the APA, WHO, and others. Despite these controversies, the APA’s findings and diagnostic criteria still remain the most often frequently sources for diagnosing and understanding mental illness in the United States. The figures presented in this article are taken from the APA’s current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and an associated technical companion, Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry.
It is important to note that different prevalence rates are stated for different disorders. The 12-month prevalence refers to the number or percentage of individuals who are diagnosed with a disorder in any 12-month period, whereas a lifetime prevalence rate refers to the percentage of individuals who are diagnosed with a specific disorder over their lifetime.
The figure that is typically stated is that about 26.2 percent of the American population experiences a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. Critics believe that this figure is abnormally inflated. Stated prevalence rates for select mental illnesses follow.
Prevalence by Disorder
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