Industry Insights
May 4, 2020

Data Deep Dive: The Prevalence of Mental Health Issues

Written by
Miranda Raimon
Reviewed by
Updated on
July 25, 2023

When suffering from mental health issues or disorders, we often feel alone. Work stress, relationships, even day-to-day tasks can feel overwhelming when trying to navigate the world in the fog of mental illness. Mental health disorders can include a range of issues — conditions can affect your mood, thinking and/or behavior. With all of these factors, concerns about mental health can pop up frequently, especially since nearly half of adults in the United States experience a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month — a time to raise awareness, debunk myths and encourage additional medical and health care resources to those who need it most.

As we dig into the numbers, it’s clear that the prevalence of mental health issues is vast and varied. Below we’ll reflect back and explore nationwide statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) about mental health issues, to understand how they can present, who is at risk and how to move forward when experiencing signs of a mental health issue.

Mental illness explored

You may have experienced signs or warnings of mental health issues without even realizing it. Stress and anxiety are common in today’s landscape, so how can you tell the difference between experiencing one mental health episode and an escalation? The Mayo Clinic says, “... A mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.”

Causes of mental health issues

While it’s often not possible to pinpoint the exact reason someone may experience mental health issues, there are certain genetic and environmental indicators that make individuals more susceptible to mental health conditions. We like to point to the Biopsychosocial Model of mental health. Risk factors include:

  • Inherited traits: If a blood relative has suffered from mental illness, specific genes can increase the risk that a life event would trigger a response.
  • Exposure before birth: If a fetus is exposed to toxins or harmful substances in utero, the individual may be more likely to be affected by mental illness later in life.
  • Chemicals in the brain: Impaired function of nerve receptors in the brain can lead to depression and other mental health issues.

Mental illness symptoms to monitor include:

  • Sad or low feelings
  • Inability to focus
  • Increased confusion and brain fog
  • Extreme fear, worry or guilt
  • Inability to handle daily tasks and stressors
  • Low energy or intense lethargy
  • Paranoia or detachment from reality
  • Increased anger or violent tendencies
  • Dramatic change of eating habits
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Issues with drug and/or alcohol usage
  • Suicidal thoughts

Mental health myths explored

Though we’ve come a long way, stigmas and mistruths still exist around mental health. When suffering from a mental condition or disorder, individuals often feel isolated or misunderstood. Below we’ll review common mental health myths — and the numbers that prove otherwise.

Mental health misconceptions

  • Mental health only affects a few people each year: Millions of individuals experience mental health issues. In fact, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year — 19.1% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2018, which includes 47.6 million people.
  • Adults are the only ones who deal with mental health issues: Data shows that youths are more affected by mental illness than adults. On a yearly basis, 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness, while 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder.
  • Mental illness only begins in later stages of life: Frequent stress and difficulties functioning as usual can start early. In fact, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24.
  • Mental health issues don’t require serious attention: Some still believe that the ramifications of mental health conditions don’t warrant thoughtful action and intervention, but data shows that suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34. Evidence-based means of treatment like therapy (individual or group), medication, and in-patient programs can be an invaluable support, and even save lives.

Mental health statistics

As we explore the statistics available about mental health issues, we can see that mental health doesn’t discriminate, but it does affect certain demographics more than others.

Who is affected?

Let’s explore how mental health affects U.S. adults, broken down demographic:

  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 14.7%
  • Non-Hispanic white: 20.4%
  • Non-Hispanic black or African-American:16.2%
  • Non-Hispanic mixed/multiracial: 26.8%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 16.9%
  • Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual: 37.4%

What types of mental health conditions are most prominent?

Mental health conditions cover a wide range of disorders. Of all adults in the U.S. affected by mental health conditions, the most common are anxiety disorders (19.1% — touching an estimated 48 million people), major depressive episodes (7.2% — surfaced in 17.7 million people) and post-traumatic stress disorder (3.6% — as seen in an estimated 9 million people).

Mental health treatment

Annual treatment rates among U.S. adults with any mental illness, by demographic group:

  • Male: 34.9%
  • Female: 48.6%
  • Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual: 48.5%
  • Non-Hispanic Asian: 24.9%
  • Non-Hispanic white: 49.1%
  • Non-Hispanic black or African-American: 30.6%
  • Non-Hispanic mixed/multiracial: 31.8%
  • Hispanic or Latino: 32.9%

Help and options for mental health issues

Treatment is essential when experiencing mental health issues. It’s not always easy to identify the need for intervention or to move past stigmas. As such, the numbers show the average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years. In 2018, 43.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness received treatment and 64.1% of U.S. adults with serious mental illness received treatment. While this is a start, the goal is that everyone experiencing mental health concerns is able to find resources to help.

There are many avenues to explore based on the type and severity of mental health symptoms you’re experiencing, ranging from medication, psychotherapy, brain stimulation treatment, residential treatment programs and substance abuse programs. And while therapy has proven to be very effective in helping ameliorate mental health overall, 60% of U.S. counties do not have a single practicing psychiatrist.

Why it matters

Experiencing mental health issues can be all-consuming. The ramifications of suffering from mental health concerns can ripple beyond mood, behavior and feelings.

For individuals

Those with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the population at large — and those with serious mental illness are almost twice as likely to see these conditions develop over time. Students in high school with prevalent depression symptoms are twice as likely to drop out compared to peers. Mental health also affects performance and success in the workplace, as the rate of unemployment is higher among adults who have mental illness (5.8%) compared to those who do not (3.6%) in the U.S.

For the surrounding community

Mental health doesn’t just affect the person with symptoms. Family, friends and society in general can all feel ripple effects. For example, 8.4 million people in the U.S. provide care to an adult with a mental or emotional health issue, and caregivers of adults with mental or emotional health issues spend an average of 32 hours per week providing (unpaid) care.

Taking a look at the U.S. economy, serious mental illness causes $193.2 billion in lost earnings each year. Depression and anxiety disorders account for $1 trillion in lost productivity each year, globally.

Taking action

By seeking out understanding and equipping ourselves with resources, we can work together to bring light to mental health issues, reverse stigmas and make getting help easier and more accessible. Working alongside a professional, there are numerous lifestyle and personal changes you can make to cope with whatever you’re going through. Take charge of your mental health and book a (virtual) matching appointment today at Two Chairs.

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If you or someone you know is seeking mental health care, you can reach out to our Care Coordination team at or by phone at (415) 202-5159.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency or crisis and needs immediate help, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Additional resources can be found here.

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