Scope Of The Mental Health Epidemic

October 10, 2018

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), October 10 is World Mental Health Day.  The goal of the day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. Every year has a unique theme, and this year focuses on Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.  Since mental health is a growing concern for employers, The Wellable Blog is launching a four-part series discussing mental health as it relates to the workplace.  Below are the weekly topics.  Subscribe to The Wellable Blog to receive email updates when the new posts are published.

Part 1 (October 3): Introduction To Mental Health

Part 2 (October 10): Scope Of The Mental Health Epidemic

Part 3 (October 17): Why Employers Should Care About Employee Mental Health

Part 4 (October 24): How Can Employers Help Improve Employee Mental Health


The Prevalence Of Common Mental Health Disorders

The prevalence of the mental health epidemic is broader than what is widely believed. Virtually everyone is susceptible to mental health issues, and unfortunately, upwards of 44 million U.S. adults (nearly 20%) experience some form of mental health detriment every year. Out of those individuals, ten million are living with a serious mental illness. In addition, a large portion of people who suffer from mental illness also suffer from more than one disorder.

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, the three most common types of mental health disorders fall under the categories of anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and schizophrenia disorders.

Anxiety disorders, the most common type of mental illness, affect over 18% of U.S. adults, representing a total of 42 million individuals.  The prevalence of anxiety disorders relative to other major mental illnesses makes it the primary mental health challenge for employers.

Mood disorders include various forms of depression. Major depression affects nearly 7% of the U.S. population and bipolar disorder affects approximately 3% of the U.S. population, equating to 16 million and 6 million people, respectively.  Mood disorders are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for adults aged 18 to 44.

Schizophrenia, a highly complex disorder, affects one in a hundred American adults, approximately 2.4 million people.


Mental Health Trends

Although mental health issues are highly complex and different for each person, there are some common characteristics that individuals with mental illness share. For instance, intelligent people may experience a high susceptibility to mental health problems, according to a recent study. A team of researchers surveyed 3,715 members of the American Mensa with IQ scores exceeding 130 and concluded that intelligent people are generally at a higher risk of mental illness. The researchers speculate that this is due to their increased awareness levels, or “hyperbrain,” that result in stronger reactions to environmental stimuli. Although an IQ score or 130 or above does not pertain to the average person, it can be reasonably concluded that individuals of above-average intelligence may experience a similar, less intense effect.

The predisposition for intelligent people to be prone to mental health issues is likely intensified by the fact that these individuals are commonly employed in high-stress work environments, an important factor to consider as an employer. For example, a study from the Journal of Addiction Medicine found that lawyers are much more likely to experience mental health problems related to substance abuse and depression than the rest of the population. It seems as though “lawyers are less likely to seek help than others, out of confidentiality concerns and a fear of telling others they have a problem,” which has resulted in a staggering 28% of lawyers reporting symptoms of depression.

Mental illness is also more prevalent in certain generations.  Millennials, the largest generation in the workforce, are statistically more prone to anxiety and depression than the general population. As the first generation to experience a constant and rampant influx of technology and social media influences during their formative years, millennials have experienced a version of the world characterized by its fast-pace and competitiveness. This has resulted in an entire generation plagued by various issues related to low self-esteem, insecurity, and an unattainable level of perfection.  For companies employing large numbers of millennials, it is critical to understand the specific mental health challenges and needs this generation and implement strategies that promote mental well-being in the workplace.

Stay tuned next week as The Wellable Blog explores why employers, in particular, should care about mental health. Hint: it is good for employees and their business.

Topics: Wellness

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