Mental Illness By the Numbers

Mental illness, once rarely spoken about, started gaining increasing attention within the past several decades with the onset of antidepressants for the treatment of clinical depression. It’s a good thing it has.

As a psychiatry resident physician, I have seen how untreated depression or other mental health issues negatively impact an individual, their family members and even their workplace. I have seen patients attempt to deal with their depression alone making everyday activity a bigger burden than the day before. Ultimately, it can become so emotionally draining that they lose sleep and energy, struggle to deal with marital differences in a healthy manner and have trouble functioning at work, sometimes even losing their jobs. Each case varies per individual, but the take-home message is the same: depression is like looking at the world in a negative lens 24/7. That can’t be anything short of difficult.

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The statistics on mental illness are daunting. About 44 million adults in the U.S.—1 in 5 Americans—suffer from mental health issues each year, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). Depression is the most common with 6.9 percent of Americans having experienced a major depressive episode last year. That means each year 16 million Americans are experiencing clinical symptoms of depression including low mood, decreased appetite and loss of interest in regular activities. Some may have a genetic predisposition to experiencing depression while others experience it for the first time after a significant life event or trauma. Regardless of the reason, untreated depression can lead to things like insomnia, malnutrition, medical complications and even suicide.

The latter is another major public health concern. Suicide rates jumped 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s now the second leading cause of death for Americans between 15 and 34 years old, the American Psychiatric Association reported. It was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. overall in 2016, taking the lives of about 45,000 Americans. The National Institute of Mental Health also reported more than 1 million American adults attempted suicide in 2016. Yet, suicide can be prevented if resources are promptly maximized. Protective factors include mental health care, social support, family support and practicing spiritual or religious beliefs.

In honor of May being Mental Health Month, I strongly encourage families to consider utilizing local services if they or a loved one is suffering from mental health issues. Local CRISIS support groups, the NAMI hotline or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) are free, confidential and generally available 24/7.

dr. uruj kamal

dr. uruj kamal

Dr. Uruj Kamal is Chief Resident of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center-University of Massachusetts Medical School. A Stony Brook native, she enjoys combining her knowledge of mental health with healthy living. Dr. Kamal has a special interest in outpatient adult psychiatry.