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Is mental illness on the rise?

A recent study, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that 20 percent of American adults suffer from mental illness each year. The mental health situation is even worse in Europe, where a similar recent survey found that number to be 38 percent.

Similarly, the number of Americans whose mental illness is so severe that they meet the level of physical or mental disability required to receive Supplemental Security Income or Social Security disability benefits has increased nearly two and a half times from 1987 to 2007. That means that in 1987, one in 184 Americans qualified for government assistance because of a mental disorder. As of 2007, that number had increased to one in 76. That increase has had an even greater effect on the number of children with a mental illness.

The National Institute for Mental Health conducted a similar survey about a decade ago and found that almost half of all Americans had met the criteria for mental illness at some point in their lives. Unlike ailments that physically manifest and are easily diagnosed and treated, such as the flu, mental illness exists on a spectrum, ranging in severity. Approximately 26.5 million adults were given prescription drugs for their mental health in 2010, and it must be questioned whether it was for mild nervousness or debilitating depression.

The "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," a common text for those in the mental health profession, could be taking steps to curb what could be needless diagnoses. The American Psychiatric Association is preparing the newest version, but half of the "personality disorders" present in the current edition are being cut.

But that debate is best left to the medical community. What people who suffer from mental illness should worry about is whether or not they qualify for Social Security disability.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "Normal life too often is medicalized," Daniel Akst, Jan. 26, 2012

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