How common is mental illness really

1 in 5 people has a mental illness.

That is the statistic we know. And that is quite a lot given the stigma that is out there for it. All the shame we shove at people for just having one. The suggestion of weakness. And it is 1 in 5.

Well… perhaps it is more common than 1 in 5.

Let that sink in.

We found that if you follow people over time, and screen them regularly using simple, evidence-based tools, the percentage of people who develop a diagnosable mental illness at any point in their lives jumps to well over 80 percent. In our cohort only 17 percent of study members did not develop a disorder, at least briefly, by middle age. Because we can’t be certain these individuals remained disorder-free in the years between assessments, the true proportion that never experienced a mental illness may be even smaller.  Scientific America

However, it isn’t the case where the mental illness is life-long.

If you ever develop a psychological disorder, many assume you will have it for life. The newest research suggests, for the most common psychological complaints, this is simply not true. “A substantial component of what we describe as disorder is often short-lived, of lesser severity or self-limiting,” says John Horwood, a psychiatric epidemiologist and director of the longitudinal Christchurch Health and Development Study in New Zealand. Scientific America

And perhaps people would be more understanding if they knew in many cases mental illness is common but not long lasting. It may affect their life and work but is temporary. It is something they deserve help and treatment for though.

Who were those that were robustly mentally healthy you might wonder? First, they tended to have no family history of mental illness. Secondly, they had ‘advantageous’ personalities; tended to display fewer negative emotions, get along better with peer and have greater self-control. But Not any richer, smarter or physically healthier, at least earlier in life.

I have reoccurring depression. I haven’t been depressed my whole life. But I had a depression that lasted a little bit when I was 18-ish for about a year. It was diagnosed as chronic depression, but clearly not very chronic. I did get some sort of treatment but it wasn’t effective so I just managed it myself. Then the re-occurrence when I was in my mid 30’s likely due to my increase in pain at first and then developing into a Major Depressive Disorder. Which did need treatment, and is effectively treated.

And maybe it is more common. Maybe it is 80%. Where would the stigma be in that then? Maybe then we could put equal importance on our mental wellbeing as our physical wellbeing. With no shame when we need to treat a mental illness when it occurs with therapy or medication, or both.

However, even so, most of us know in some cases it is more severe for us, more enduring and more limiting. And the stigma as a result profound. Nevertheless, the research is interesting in the sense I believe there should be an emphasis on mental wellbeing in our society where there clearly just isn’t.

Some posts on depression:

Depression: Do not med shame me

Depression matters: Some really, real questions I can answer

8 things to consider for depression



4 thoughts on “How common is mental illness really?

  1. It is truly amazing as to how many people suffer in silence with Mental Illness. I do not think it is something they should ashamed of. We all have things we deal with in life and everyone needs to be accepted for who they are and everyone needs support. It will never help to beat someone down that is suffering from anything. I have just started my blog and my goal is to help people. I want to be the positiveness everyone needs and be inspiring! I look forward to reading more of your posts! If you would be so kind to follow my page because as I said, I am just starting and want to have my page grow in order to be that encouragement to others! Thank you and take care!


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