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Mental Illness in the US: Putting It Into Perspective

Every year, mental illness affects millions of people in the United States. Studies on mental illness and mental health treatment help create understanding around their prevalence and impact. Here we will break down these studies to illustrate how common mental illnesses are and help create awareness around the importance of mental health treatment and care.

What is Mental Illness? 

Mental illnesses are defined as diagnosable mental disorders that alter emotions, thinking, and behavior. Mental disorders cover a variety of disorders that range in severity from mild to severe. Mental disorders can create problems with one’s ability to function in family, social, and work situations.

How Common Is Mental Illness?

A study done in 2019 found that 1 in 5 US adults in the US are experiencing mental illness. This number equates to 20.6%  (51.5 million people) of the population diagnosed with one or more mental illnesses. Of those 51.5 million people, 1 in 20 experience serious mental illness, and 3.8% of people diagnosed with a mental disorder also experience a substance use disorder.

1 in 5 adults in the US are experiencing mental illness.

Rates of Mental Illness in the US

How many people are affected by mental illness?

  • 1 in 5 (20.6% or 51.5 million) US adults experience mental illness
  • 5.2% (13.1 million) of adults experience serious mental disorders
  • 3.8% (9.5 million) of adult’s experience substance abuse as well

How does mental illness affect people by age?

  • 29.4% of all adults ages 18-25 old, which is the highest occurrence of mental illnesses
  • 25% of adults during age 25-49 years old
  • 14% of adults from 50 years or older

How does mental illness affect people by sex?

  • 20.6% overall adults
  • 24.5% of adult females
  • 16.3% of adult males

How does mental illness affect people by other demographics?

  • 22.2% White
  • 18.7% American Indian or Alaskan Native
  • 18% Hispanic or Latino
  • 17.3% black or African American
  • 16.6% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander
  • 14.4% Asian
  • 31.7% two or more races (mixed race)
  • 44.1% Lesbian, gay, or bisexual
  • 23.9% employed full-time
  • 8.1% employed part-time
  • 2.7% unemployed

What Are The Most Common Mental Illnesses?

Mental illnesses and disorders can affect people in numerous ways. Some disorders are more common than others, and when untreated, can severely impact one’s life. Here are the most common forms of mental illness that people are experiencing today.


Anxiety affects 48 million people every year and is the most common and predominantly diagnosed mental illness. Anxiety disorders cover a wide range of disorders that vary in severity. However, the more severe disorders can have a significant impact on everyday life.


Depression is the second most common form of mental illness, affecting 9.5% of adults in the US. Like anxiety disorders, depression covers a range of disorders that vary in severity. In 2019, 7.8% (19.4 million) of US adults experienced a major depressive episode, one of the most common depressive disorders.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Approximately half of all adults in the US will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime, and of those adults, 3.6% (9 million) develop post-traumatic stress disorder. The degree of impairment caused by PTSD can be mild, moderate, or serious. Of these degrees, 30.2% are mild, 33.1% are moderate, and 36.6% are serious.


2.8% (7 million) of adults in the US are diagnosed with bipolar disorder or manic depressive disorder. The degree of impairment ranges from moderate to severe. 17.1% of adults with bipolar experience moderate impairment, and 82.9% experience serious impairment. Bipolar disorder has the highest percent of serious impairment.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

1.2% (3 million) of adults in the US experience obsessive-compulsive disorder. OCD is a chronic disorder that causes a person to experience uncontrollable repeated thoughts and behaviors. OCD can range in severity from mild, moderate, and serious.

Borderline Personality Disorder

1.4% (3.5 million) of adults in the US experience borderline personality disorder. 84.5% of people experiencing borderline personality disorder are also experiencing comorbidity with other mental illnesses and emotional disorders.


Less than 1% (1.5 million) of adults in the US are diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Though schizophrenia affects fewer people than other mental illnesses, it is known for the severity of its symptoms ad the impact it can have on someone’s life. Moreover, schizophrenia is one of the prominent causes of disability in the US.

What Can You Do About Mental Illness?

Recovery and management of mental illnesses or mental disorders are possible through treatment. Various mental health treatments exist to help those experiencing mental illnesses, such as therapy, medication, and holistic and alternative medicine.

Though treatments are available, the rate at which people seek treatment is low. In 2019, less than half (44.8%) of the millions of adults in the US experiencing mental illness received treatment in 2019, while 65.5% of adults in the US experiencing serious mental illnesses sought treatment. On average, people experience an 11-year gap between the onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment.

Less than half of the millions of adults in the US experiencing mental illness received treatment in 2019.

Women are more likely to seek treatment than men. Of those who sought treatment in 2019, 36.8% are male, and 49.7% are female. In addition, 49.2% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals and 50.3% of white individuals experiencing mental illnesses received treatment, while other demographics are less likely to seek treatment. For example, only  33.9% of Hispanics and Latinos received treatment in 2019.

The lack of access to treatment is another issue for those struggling with mental illness. Many adults in the US struggle with medical insurance coverage or access to mental health professionals. Furthermore, mental illnesses are the top contributors to the rates of emergency services, hospitalization, and disability.

Mental Illness and Suicide

Suicide is death caused by intentional self-inflicted injury. Suicide is an ongoing crisis throughout the world. Suicide rates have been climbing since 1999. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. In addition, 46% of people who died by suicide were diagnosed with a mental illness. 

Mental Illness Awareness

Creating awareness around the prevalence of mental illness is essential to creating better outcomes for those experiencing and struggling with mental health. In addition, removing the stigma of mental illnesses could promote positive changes in access to treatment and services and encourage those with mental illnesses to be more proactive about mental health. Therefore, it is crucial to continue studying and understanding this data and continue the conversation around the importance of mental health.

To learn how Silicon Beach Treatment Center can help you or your loved one manage a mental illness, call us today.

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