Magazine article Science News

Disorderly Conduct: U.S. Survey Finds High Rates of Mental Illness

Magazine article Science News

Disorderly Conduct: U.S. Survey Finds High Rates of Mental Illness

Article excerpt

About one in four people develops at least one mental disorder in any given year, and nearly one in two people does so at some time in their lives. Most of the cases are mild, however, and don't require treatment. Those are some of the findings from the latest survey of mental health in the United States.

The national assessment, conducted every 10 years, finds that each year around 1 in 17 people experiences at least one mental disorder so severely that the researchers say it requires immediate treatment. However, most of these people don't seek treatment or they receive poor-quality care, say epidemiologist Ronald C. Kessler of Harvard Medical School in Boston and his colleagues.

The first four papers describing results of the $20 million survey funded by the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., appear in the June Archive, of General Psychiatry. A nationally representative sample of 9,282 people, age 18 or older, granted home interviews between February 2001 and April 2003.

Mental disorders involving anxiety, mood, impulse control, and substance abuse were covered in the first round of reports. These conditions represent chronic illnesses early in life, Kessler's team concludes. Three-quarters of people with these ailments first developed symptoms by age 21, and half did so by age 14.

The findings highlight the need to determine how best to treat mental disorders in children and teenagers, the researchers assert. Moreover, says Kessler, "we need to do a better job of figuring out which of today's mental disorders will become more severe in the future."

Anxiety, disorders, including social phobia and panic disorder, had been experienced by 29 percent of participants at some time in their lives and by 18 percent in the year before being interviewed. For impulse-control disorders, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, those figures were 25 percent and 9 percent, respectively. …

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