Mental illnesses and disorders can be very common, and have serious consequences for people and the healthcare system.
While the impact of mental illness is often very serious for individuals and their loved ones, most people don’t know how common mental health disorders are.
Understanding exactly how prevalent, or common, certain mental disorders are, helps us in several ways. Firstly, knowing that one is not alone when receiving a mental health diagnosis can be therapeutic in and of itself.
Secondly, knowing the prevalence of mental illness can increase awareness of their importance and what might be done to help those experiencing it. At the same time, such knowledge can help in reducing the stigma that is sometimes attached to mental illness.
Thirdly, highly common mental health issues, like other common physical issues, lead to hospitalizations and create a strain on hospitals. Understanding the prevalence of these illnesses can motivate researchers, medical professionals, and even politicians to work towards better treatment options.
In this article we will examine the top 10 most common health issues, looking at each one briefly. As there are many mental illnesses, it is important to realize that this list will not be covering all of them. Also, this article does not imply that less common mental disorders are less severe, less important, or less painful. Each disorder is significant in its effect on the person, their family, and society as a whole, and because of that, deserves comprehensive treatment.
Our list of the top 10 most common health issues begins with anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one sub-category of anxiety disorders that often is characterized by exaggerated levels of worry.1 These are exaggerated because they are very difficult to control, and often do not reflect reality. They can also be accompanied by physical symptoms including restlessness, being easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, or sleep disturbance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, 15% of adults experienced symptoms of GAD, with younger adults being most commonly affected.1
Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is another common sub-category and is characterized by a significant fear of being judged by others in social settings.2 People who experience social anxiety will often be worried about doing something that might embarrass them and can lead to severe distress and impairment. It is estimated that 12% of the US population will experience SAD throughout their life, and 7% of the population will experience it during any 12-month period.2
Substance use disorders, commonly referred to as addictions, describe a condition in which a person would continue using a substance even though they try to stop and the addiction causes significant issues in their life.3 The substances that could be involved in this addiction range from alcohol and tobacco to opioids, cannabis, stimulants, and more. Nearly 10% of adults in the United States experience alcohol use disorders during a 12-month period.3 Substance abuse disorders including illicit drugs (marijuana, cocaine, stimulants, etc.) are estimated to affect 9% of the US population.
Eating disorders involve abnormal eating behaviors, and significant attempts to control shape and weight, which impair a person’s functioning.3 These include anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by restricting calorie intake and leading to significantly low body weight, and bulimia nervosa, which involves periods of binge eating accompanied by compensatory behaviors (such as self-induced vomiting, fasting, excessive exercise, etc.). Anorexia nervosa is believed to affect 1%-2% of girls and women, and less than 0.3% of boys and men. Bulimia nervosa affects 1%-4% of girls and women, and less than 0.5% of boys and men. Prevalence rates can be significantly higher if considering sub-threshold disorders, meaning the individual displays some symptoms, but do not satisfy all diagnostic criteria.3
Schizophrenia is a severe psychiatric disorder that is often characterized by psychotic symptoms like hallucinations or delusions, negative symptoms, such as apathy, and impaired cognitive functioning. The prevalence of schizophrenia is believed to be 0.7% throughout the lifetime, and is believed to be slightly more common in men than women.3
Personality disorders are an umbrella term for several different mental disorders that involve significant impairment due to maladaptive patterns of behavior or thought. Personality disorders are believed to be very common in the general population, with some estimating up to 18% prevalence.3 Such disorders tend to be highly chronic and long-lasting. Personality disorders include Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Schizotypal Personality Disorder, and more.
Mood disorders are illnesses that affect emotions and emotional-regulation, and include bipolar disorder and depression. Depression involves a significant depressed mood or loss of interest, as well as other symptoms such as low energy. Bipolar disorders are characterized by an occurrence of a manic or hypomanic episode, wherein mood and energy are significantly higher, followed by a prolonged period of depression. It is believed that 6.6% of the population experience depression during a 12-month period, while 23% would experience a depressive episode in their lifetime.3 Bipolar depression is considered to affect less than 1% of the population.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious disorder that can create severe impairment and distress to an individual. It is characterized by obsessions, which are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, and compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors typically done in an effort to alleviate the distress caused by obsessions. Estimates of prevalence suggest that OCD can affect about 1% of the population within a 12-month period.3
- Terlizzi, P., & Villarroel, A. (2020). Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder Among Adults: United States, 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db378.htm.
- Horenstein, A., Butler, R., & Heimberg, R. (2019). Social Anxiety Disorder. In B. Olatunji (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Anxiety and Related Disorders (Cambridge Handbooks in Psychology, pp. 480-516). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781108140416.018
Nathan, P., Zweben, J., & Rawson, R. (2016). APA handbook of clinical psychology: Psychopathology and health (Vol. 4). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14862-011
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