Mental Disorder Numbers Outpace Treatment

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, February 27, 1993 | Go to article overview

Mental Disorder Numbers Outpace Treatment


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Mental disorders, drug abuse or dependence, or a combination of the two afflict an estimated 28 percent of U.S. adults annually, a statistic that translates into about 44.7 million persons, according to the most recent analysis of the largest U.S. survey of mental illness to date. However, fewer than one-third of those suffering from these problems seek help from physicians, mental-health clinics, self-help groups, or other caregivers, federal researchers report.

The survey offers no clear guidelines for revamping the health-care system or ensuring accessibility to treatment for mental disorders, assert Darrel A. Regier and his colleagues. Regier, a psychiatrist, serves as director of the Division of Epidemiology and Services Research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NlMH) in Rockville, Md.

"One is left with the dilemma of deciding how a more equitable and efficient system may be developed:' the investigators say.

The Epidemiological Catchment Area (ECA) survey covers five communities: Baltimore; Durham, N.C.; Los Angeles; New Haven, Conn.; and St. Louis. Between 1980 and 1985, researchers interviewed 20,291 individuals; a year later, they conducted follow-up interviews with 15,849 members of that group.

Though the ECA survey concentrates on urban areas, it stands as the most comprehensive look at the prevalence and treatment of mental disorders nationwide.

Initial interviews revealed that 15.7 percent of those surveyed reported symptoms of a mental disorder or substance abuse in the month before their questioning (SN: 11/12/88, p. 311). During the one-year follow-up, an additional 12.3 percent of the sample either developed a new mental disorder or serious drug problem or experienced the return of a mental disorder that had not been present at the time of the first interview.

Phobias and abuse of or dependence on alcohol and illicit drugs account for much of the overall increase in prevalence, from 15.7 percent at one month to 28 percent at one year, the researchers report in the February ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY.

Phobias affected 10.9 percent of the participants at one year. Another 7.4 percent reported alcohol abuse or dependence, 5.4 percent reported dysthymia (mild depression), 5 percent cited severe depression, 3. …

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