Mental Illness: An Overview of CDC Statistics

New Connections Psychology


In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a summary report which collated previously published information on how mental illness is measured in the U.S. and provided summary statistics. While the report did not introduce new information, it brought together a wealth of data into a single document.

The report highlights the significant impact of mental illness on disability in developed countries, surpassing that of other illnesses such as cancer and heart disease, as noted by the World Health Organization. However, the media often focuses on reducing the risk of physical health problems, neglecting the importance of addressing mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression.

Based on a rigorous health survey conducted by the CDC in 2004, it was estimated that 25 percent of adults in the U.S. reported experiencing a mental illness in the previous year, while lifetime prevalence rates of mental illness were around 50 percent in 2004. Thus, it is likely that one member of a family of four in the U.S. has experienced mental illness.


Mental illness tends to be more prevalent among seniors, a time when life may appear to be more daunting.

The National Nursing Home Survey, conducted by CDC researchers, is an ongoing annual survey that collects data from residents and staff members of nursing homes. Unfortunately, the survey results reveal a bleak outlook:


“The prevalence of nursing home residents with a primary diagnosis of mental illness in 2004 increased with age, ranging from 18.7% among those aged 65-74 years to 23.5% among those aged 85 years or older.

Dementia and Alzheimer disease were the most common primary diagnoses among nursing home residents with a primary diagnosis of mental illness, and the prevalence of each increased with age. Among nursing home residents with any diagnosis of mental illness (among any of 16 current diagnoses), mood disorders and dementia were the most common diagnoses among residents aged 65-74 years and 75-84 years.

Among residents aged 85 years or older, dementia (41.0%) was the most common mental illness, followed by mood disorders (35.3%). In 2004, approximately two thirds of nursing home residents had a diagnosis of a mental illness, and approximately one third of these had a mood disorder.”


It is disheartening to learn that two-thirds of individuals residing in nursing homes are affected by mental illness, leading doctors to prescribe various medications to manage depression, as unfortunately, dementia is incurable. These statistics are sobering.

It should come as no surprise that nursing homes are not typically associated with happiness and independence. However, does the mental health outlook improve among the younger, general population?

Based on data collected from CDC surveys measuring depression, the prevalence of depression at any given moment is estimated to be between 6.8 percent and 8.7 percent. This means that in the U.S., approximately 1 in 11 to 1 in 14 people meet the criteria for clinical depression – a substantial number of individuals.


“Rates of reported lifetime diagnosis of depression were similar in 2006 (15.7%) and 2008 (16.1%).

The prevalence of lifetime diagnosis of anxiety disorders was slightly lower, with 11.3% in 2006 and 12.3% in 2008.

In 2007, NHIS [surveys found] 1.7% of participants had received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and 0.6% had received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.”


As evident, the lifetime risk of anxiety disorders is comparable to that of depression. However, the CDC does not measure or monitor them as meticulously.


“CDC surveys focus on depression, and they lack sufficient data on anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are as common in the population as depression and, like depression and severe psychological distress, can result in high levels of impairment. Moreover, the pathophysiologic characteristics of anxiety disorders are similar to those of depression and often are associated with the same chronic medical conditions.

The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions […] estimated that during 2001-2002, 14% of U.S. adults had an anxiety disorder: 7%, specific phobia; 3%, social phobia; 2%, generalized anxiety disorder; and 1%, panic disorder.”


It is essential to bear in mind that only around 7 to 9 percent of adults experience clinical depression, indicating that anxiety disorders are almost twice as prevalent as depression. Despite receiving less attention than depression, anxiety can be equally debilitating and a severe issue. Surprisingly, the CDC does not even monitor anxiety disorders.

Finally, it is worth noting that the CDC is only now recognizing what psychologists have known for decades – health problems are significantly influenced by co-occurring mental health conditions. The two are intricately connected.


“Increasingly, physicians and others who treat mental illness, as well as public health experts, are recognizing the substantial overlap between mental illness and diseases traditionally considered to be matters of public health concern. The ability of certain mental illnesses to exacerbate morbidity from several chronic diseases is well-established. Recent studies have explored the causal pathways from mental illness to certain chronic diseases, highlighting the need for more accurate and timely information on the epidemiology of mental illness in the United States.”


It is important to note that this co-morbidity works in both directions. When you see someone being treated for a significant health problem, such as cancer or heart disease, in a hospital bed, remember that they may also be dealing with mental health issues. Unfortunately, most of the time, these concerns are ignored, or treated as insignificant, unrelated problems, even if they are just anxiety related to the treatment or recovery from the disease.

The CDC’s report served to summarize their current reporting tools for measuring mental disorders, identifying areas of overlap and crucial measurements that were missing. However, none of the CDC’s survey tools were specifically designed to measure mental illness, indicating a significant oversight. Although they are working to address this problem, it may take years before they can systematically measure a broader range of mental disorders across the United States, rather than just a few.


Getting Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition, it’s essential to seek professional help. Therapy can be incredibly beneficial in managing anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns. In recent years, online therapy services have become increasingly popular, making it more accessible and convenient for individuals to receive therapy from the comfort of their own homes. This is especially important for individuals who may not have easy access to in-person therapy or may be hesitant to attend in-person sessions due to the ongoing pandemic. By seeking help through therapy or online telehealth services, individuals can receive the necessary support to manage their mental health concerns and improve their overall well-being.



In conclusion, mental illness is a prevalent issue in the United States, with a significant impact on individuals’ quality of life and the healthcare system. Despite its prevalence, mental illness is often overlooked and undertreated, with a lack of resources and stigma surrounding mental health being significant barriers to care. The CDC’s efforts to measure mental illness and address gaps in their reporting tools are crucial steps in understanding the scope of this problem and improving access to mental health care. However, it’s essential to remember that seeking professional help through therapy or online telehealth services can make a significant difference in managing mental health conditions. By working together to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and provide support, we can improve mental health outcomes and enhance the overall well-being of individuals and communities across the country.

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