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Mental Health Disorders

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on June 22, 2022.

Mental health disorders are common and affect tens of millions of people each year in the United States. However, less than half of those affected receive counseling or prescription medications. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) defines a mental illness as:

  • a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder (excluding developmental and substance use disorders)
  • diagnosable currently or within the past year
  • meets diagnostic criteria specified within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Distinctions are also made between any mental illness and a serious mental illness.

Any Mental Illness

  • Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder.
  • AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment (e.g., individuals with serious mental illness as defined below).

Serious Mental Illness

  • Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI.
  • SMI is a smaller and more severe subset of AMI.

In 2020 (the latest data), nearly one in five U.S. adults 18 years of age or older live with any mental illness (AMI), or about 52.9 million people (21% of all adults). Women (25.8%) are more highly impacted by AMI than men (15.8%). Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of AMI (30.6%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (25.3%) and aged 50 and older (14.5%).

Over 14.2 million adults (5.6%) live with a serious mental illness (SMI). The prevalence of SMI was higher among females (7.0%) than males (4.2%). Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of SMI (9.7%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (6.9%) and aged 50 and older (3.4%).

Even though mental disorders are widespread, the main burden of illness lies in serious mental health disorders. These result in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. These estimates of any mental illness do not include substance use disorders, such as drug- or alcohol-related disorders.

A mental illness does not mean one cannot function and live a productive life - treatments can have a profound effect. A mental illness can range in impact from limited impairment to significantly disabling impairment, such as in individuals with serious mental illness. 

List mental health disorders:

Mental illnesses can bring a heavy toll on the individual. Major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for individuals aged 15 to 44 years. Mental health disorders are also high among the homeless and inmates. Add to that, cuts in government-funded mental health services and psychiatric hospital beds, and the cost of not caring for people living with any mental illness can skyrocket, both for the individual and the US healthcare system.

How has COVID-19 affected mental health?

As reported by the World Health Organization, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a 25% increase in prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Fears of infection, isolation from family and friends, grief and loss, and for many, financial and business impacts have all taken their toll. The burden has been especially heavy for the elderly, certain racial and ethnic groups, children and young adults.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been shown to lead to increased emergency diagnoses of mental health conditions during this time

  • In JAMA Psychiatry, published in March 2022, researchers examined changes in adult MH-related emergency department (ED) visits during the delta variant pandemic timeframe.
  • They looked at 107.8 million emergency visits among adults from Jan. 1, 2019, to Aug. 14, 2021.
  • Results suggest that EDs may have increases in MH-related visits after COVID-19 surges, specifically for young adults and individual racial and ethnic minority subpopulations.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.