HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Monday, June 13, 2005

Majority of U.S. Residents Will Develop A Mental Illness

The NIH has set forth a study indicating that more than fifty percent of the American population will develop a mental illness during their lives.  According to the New York Times,

The survey is the most comprehensive in a series of censuslike mental health studies undertaken by the government. The findings of those studies are frequently cited by researchers, advocacy groups, policy makers and drug manufacturers to emphasize the importance of diagnosing and treating mental illness.

The earlier, less comprehensive surveys, which were published in 1984 and 1994 and which also found a high prevalence of mental illness, came under attack on the ground that they defined mental illness too broadly. Now, experts say, the new findings are sure to renew debate about whether mental illness can be reliably distinguished from garden-variety emotional struggles that are part of any life.

Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the primary sponsor of the study, said in a conference call with reporters, "The key point to remember is that mental disorders are highly prevalent and chronic." The study, Dr. Insel added, "demonstrates clearly that these really are the chronic disorders of young people in this country."

On the other side are psychiatrists who say they believe that the estimates are inflated. "Fifty percent of Americans mentally impaired - are you kidding me?" said Dr. Paul McHugh, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University.

Wow!  It amazes me how we do refuse to understand how important mental health is to an individual's overall well-being as well as how an individual's physical condition may dramatically impact their mental condition.

As a follow-up to this study, the Science section of the Times also has an interesting article on mental health and defining who is mentally ill. 


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