Mental illness has likely affected your or someone you know. It can take on many forms from depression and anxiety, to bipolar disorder and eating disorders. Historically, mental illness issues have been largely ignored in part due to the belief that those who suffer are not ‘mentally strong’ and just need to get over it. Even worse, suicide as a result of severe mental illness is frowned upon in many religions as an insult to God. In the US, people with a history of mental illness or attempted suicides may be barred from entering the country. As we gain awareness into this universal issue we are starting to realize that mental health is not something to be taken lightly and requires compassionate care as much as any other illness.
Mental illness can affect people of all ages, genders, or ethnicity. 20% of Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime and about 8% of adults will come face to face with major depression at some point in their life. More frightening is the fact the nearly half of all people who have ever experience depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor because of fear of discrimination at work, school or home. Researchers from all over the world have been trying to get a better handle on what causes mental illness and why it seems to be so prevalent. Recently, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report detailing the results of their 4 year survey into mental health. This report identifies just how prevalent mental illness is and how debilitating it can be.
The researchers looked into the percentage of people from various categories who suffered from serious psychological distress. This was defined as:
“Any mental health problem severe enough to cause moderate to serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning and to require treatment.”
The findings of the work are summarized below:
- Regardless of age, women were more likely to have serious psychological distress than men (3.9% of women vs. 2.8% of men).
- Adults between the ages of 45 and 64 were the most likely of all the age groups to have mental health issues (4.3% of adults in this age group vs. 3.4% of adults in all age groups).
- Caucasians had the lowest level of mental health distress (3.3% vs. 3.8% in Hispanics and 3.7% in African Americans).
- People below the poverty line were more likely to have mental health issues (8.7% of all people living in poverty).
- People whose income was 4 times greater than the poverty line had the lowest level of serious psychological distress (1.2% of these people).
- People with serious psychological distress were more likely to be uninsured than people without (30.4% with mental health issues were uninsured vs. 20.5 without mental health issues were uninsured).
- Mental health issues are more likely to lead to limitations in someone’s daily activities. Specifically, 27% of people 65 or older with mental health issues were likely to have severe impairment in their day to day activities (compared to 5.7% without mental health issues).
- Adults who have serious psychological distress were more likely to also have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), diabetes, and heart disease than people without serious psychological distress.
While this all may seem like common sense lets think about it for a second. If you live in poverty, you are 3 to 7 times more likely to have mental health issues then someone living comfortably over the poverty line. Add to that the fact that people with mental health issues are more likely to be uninsured, meaning they likely have to pay for their treatments putting them further in debt and starting a vicious cycle. It’s no wonder so many people suffer in silence without looking for help. They constantly have to make a decision, do I eat, have a warm place to sleep or get help? People with mental distress are also more likely to suffer from other chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. This could be caused by the stress itself or by some coping mechanism like smoking or over eating.
While all the information seems intuitive, it is important for researchers, policy makers, and the public to all start a discussion about tackling the mental health issue. Mental well being isn’t simply about remaining happy. Many things in our day to day lives can affect our mental state and everyone needs support to start the road to recovery. We are starting to see ground breaking research about how mental illness may be triggered and how to best treat it. Let’s keep the conversation going, because at some point in our life we all may need a little bit of help.
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