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The Most Prevalent Mental Illnesses

There are currently more than 200 types of mental illness. Like physical illnesses, mental health disorders are spread across a spectrum, and symptoms can vary widely in severity among individuals. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 18.1 percent of all adults in the United States had a mental illness in 2014. These are five of the most prevalent mental illnesses in the country.

Article Snapshot
The Most Prevalent Mental Illnesses

  • mental health issuesAnxiety Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depressive Disorders
  • Schizophrenia

1.Anxiety Disorders

It common to feel anxious in certain scenarios, but anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive anxiety or fear that is hard to control and ultimately has a negative impact on everyday life. Fear is a natural emotional response to a present or perceived threat, while anxiety is the anticipation of a potential future threat. Individuals can have specific fears, called phobias, or experience more generalized feelings of anxiety in a variety of situations. Collectively, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness among Americans.

According to NIMH, anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States, and 22.8 percent of those cases are considered severe. There are a variety of ways to treat anxiety disorders, including therapy, medication, and alternative holistic approaches, like acupuncture and massage.


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2.Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is characterized by hyperactivity or impulsivity and the inability to pay attention. Children who have ADHD tend to struggle in school and social situations, while adults with ADHD are easily distracted and struggle with staying organized.

ADHD is one of the most common mental health disorders among children, and boys are diagnosed with it more frequently than girls. According to the CDC, 10.2 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD.

3.Bipolar Disorder

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2.6 percent of adults suffer from some form of bipolar disorder, as do 11.2 percent of 13-18 year olds. The greatest risk factor of bipolar disorder is a family history of the condition, which is characterized by dramatic shifts in mood and energy levels, called manic and depressive episodes. According to NIMH, symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • Feelings of elation
  • Lots of energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Talking fast
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Partaking in risky behaviors

Some symptoms of a depressive episode are:

  • Sadness
  • Little energy
  • Decreased activity levels
  • Sleeping too much or sleeping too little
  • Forgetfulness
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts

4.Depressive Disorders

Depressive disorders are characterized by excessive feelings of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness, and irritability. Individuals who have a depressed mood and experience a loss of interest in their favorite activities that lasts for at least two weeks may be diagnosed with major depressive disorder. In children and some adolescents, this illness usually manifests itself with symptoms related to irritability rather than sadness.

Suicidal thoughts are common during major depressive episodes (MDE), and individuals experiencing them may require immediate medical attention. According to NSDUH, 6.6 percent of adults suffered from at least one MDE in 2014, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that suicide was the 10th leading cause of death for Americans of all ages in 2013.

There are many different ways to treat depression, including medication, therapy, and natural methods like exercise. A combination of approaches can be effective for many individuals.

5.Schizophrenia and Other Psychotic Disorders

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms of schizophrenia usually arise between the ages of 16 and 30. Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts, and those who have it struggle to identify what is real and what is not. The Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America reports that roughly 1.1 percent of the world’s population has schizophrenia, and 3.5 million people in the United States have been diagnosed with it, making it a leading cause of disability in this country.

Treatment for schizophrenia usually consists of medication and therapy, and the cycle of symptoms can become fairly manageable for most individuals, allowing them to lead normal lives.

Mental Health Disorders

Getting Help

Despite the prevalence of mental illness in this country, there is still somewhat of a stigma attached to having a mental health disorder, which prevents many people from seeking treatment. In a report originally published in BJPsych Advances, researchers remind individuals that the stigma has to do with perspective not reality, and they propose a public education program to help minimize the false perceptions of mental illness that permeate society today.