March 04, 2005

American Mental Health

There is a good story in this week's "Economist" magazine out of the UK (unfortunately you need to be a subscriber to view the article) that is titled "The Mental Health of Americans".

In the article it states that while every generation believes that their life is more stressed out than the previous gneration, in fact an increasing percent of Americans are looking for professional help for mental problems, and they are doing it at an earlier age.

"One study, conducted among students at a large mid-western university between 1988 and 2001, showed a dramatic increase in mental-health problems reported by college students: the number seeking help for depression doubled, while the number with suicidal tendencies tripled. Another study found that, in 2001, 5.5m more Americans were taking prescription drugs for mental-health problems, or problems of substance abuse, than was the case only five years earlier."

The Economist article sites the often quoted statistic that "one in five americnas suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder" - but that same statistic has generated a great deal of controversy in part because the number of "diagnosable mental disorders" has grown so much in the past decade or two (I don't have the numbers in front of me, but many people have talked about the DSM has expanded dramatically over the years, with increasing numbers of arcane sub-classifications of diagnosable disorders - many of which are so minor that reasonable people can question whether they are in fact "disorders" or just variations in the human experience - and sadly, these minor "disorders" frequenty draw attention and funding away from the extremely serious disorders of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression - areas that we believe should get the vast majority of the NIMH funding).

The Economist further states that "The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than 13% of Americans-over 19m people between the ages of 18 and 54-suffer from anxiety disorders, 9.5% from depressive disorders and millions of others from conditions ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder."

The impact on America (societal and economical) of mental illness is very significant. "Four out of ten leading causes of disability in America (and other developed economies) are mental disorders."

The article very accurately points out that three of the most important issues relating to mental health in America is the significant gap between the most current research discoveries - and current tratments of the mentally ill, as well as the significant gap in access to treatment opportunities (due to lack of insurance, lack of education, etc.) and the continuing problem of stigma.

The Economist further highlights the fact that the trend away from psychotherapy and towards treatment only with medications troubles many people in the psychiatric professions, in part because of the problems identified with side-effects of the medications.

Source: The Economist


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