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Mental Illness

Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities. (American Psychiatric Association)

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being. (CDC)

Mental Illness Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

Examples of signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or down

  • Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate

  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt

  • Extreme mood changes of highs and lows

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

  • Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping

  • Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations

  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress

  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people

  • Problems with alcohol or drug use

  • Major changes in eating habits

  • Sex drive changes

  • Excessive anger, hostility or violence

  • Suicidal thinking

Sometimes symptoms of a mental health disorder appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, or other unexplained aches and pains.

Note: Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

Mental Illness Quick Facts

Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States.

  • More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.

  • 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.

  • 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.

  • 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

(Source: CDC)

Mental Illness Stats by Demographic Group

  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 13.9%

  • Non-Hispanic white: 22.6%

  • Non-Hispanic Black or African American: 17.3%

  • Non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native: 18.7%

  • Non-Hispanic mixed/multiracial: 35.8%

  • Non-Hispanic Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander: 16.6%

  • Hispanic or Latino: 18.4%

  • Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual: 47.4%

Mental Illness Stats by Condition:

  • Major Depressive Episode: 8.4% (21 million people)

  • Schizophrenia: <1% (estimated 1.5 million people)

  • Bipolar Disorder: 2.8% (estimated 7 million people)

  • Anxiety Disorders: 19.1% (estimated 48 million people)

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: 3.6% (estimated 9 million people)

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: 1.2% (estimated 3 million people)

  • Borderline Personality Disorder: 1.4% (estimated 3.5 million people)

The Data on Serious Mental Illness in the United States (Video)

Mental Illness Definitions

Mental Illness falls into two broad categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI).

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.


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