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Mental Health

Mental health is an important part of overall health and well-being. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood, and is essential to a person's well-being, healthy family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to live a full and productive life.

Mental illnesses are conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, that affect a person's thinking, feeling, mood or behavior. These conditions may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic) and affect a person's ability to relate to others and function each day.

Although the terms mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same things. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental and social well-being.

Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. Mental illness, especially depression, increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.

There are more than 200 classified types of mental illness. Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  • More than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 5 adults (over 43 million Americans) will experience a mental illness in a given year.
  • 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.
  • 1 in 25 American adults (9.8 million people) live with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

Evidence suggests that mental illness is independently associated with a substantial excess in all-cause mortality risk. A meta-analysis of 15 population-based studies found that depression diagnosis was linked with subsequent all-cause mortality, and yielded a pooled odds ratio (OR) of 1.7 (95% CI 1.5-2.0).1 Research has shown that depression and other mental health conditions are associated with an increased prevalence of chronic diseases. Evidence has shown that mental health disorders - most often depression - are strongly associated with the risk, occurrence, management, progression, and outcome of serious chronic diseases and health conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, and cancer.1 The association is a complex self-propagating interrelationship between chronic disease and mental illness.2

1. Prince M, Patel V, Saxena S, Maj M, Maselko J, Phillips MR, Rahman A. Global Mental Health 1 - No health without mental health. Lancet. 2007 September 4. DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)61238-0.
2. Chapman DP, Perry GS, Strine TW. The vital link between chronic disease and depressive disorders. Prev Chronic Dis. 2005 Jan;2(1):A14. Epub 2004 Dec 15.

Mental health can change over time depending on many factors. When demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities, their mental health can be impacted; for example, stressful situations like divorce, working or studying long hours, caring for an ill relative or experiencing economic hardship can lead to poor mental health.

There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness such as:
  • Early adverse life experiences including experiencing or witnessing trauma or a history of abuse (child abuse or sexual assault)
  • Experiences related to other chronic medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes
  • Biological factors-genetics or chemical imbalances in the brain
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Having few friends
  • Feeling lonely or socially isolated

Fortunately, a number of mental health disorders can be treated effectively, and prevention of mental health disorders is a growing area of research and practice. Early diagnosis and treatment can decrease the disease burden of mental health disorders as well as associated chronic diseases. Assessing and addressing mental health remains important to ensure that all Americans lead longer, healthier lives.

These data sources are some of the primary resources used to help inform public health officials and other health professionals about the status of mental health and mental illness at the national and state levels.
  • Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) BRFSS collects information on health risk behaviors, preventative practices, and healthcare access. Questions include recent mentally unhealthy days, anxiety and depressive disorders, mental illness and stigma, and psychological distress.
  • National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) NHANES assesses health and nutritional status through interviews and physical examinations. Collected data cover a number of conditions, including depression and anxiety, symptoms of conditions, concerns associated with mental health and substance abuse, and mental health service use and need.
  • National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) NHIS collects data on both adult and children's mental health and mental disorders. For adults, this includes serious psychological distress and feelings of depression and anxiety. For children, this includes the presence of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autism spectrum disorder. The NHIS also examines mental health service use and whether individuals have unmet mental health needs. Questions about recent anxiety or frequent stress have been included in previous years.
  • National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) NAMCS collects data on visits to non-federally employed office-based physicians who are primarily engaged in direct patient care and, starting in 2006, a separate sample of visits to community health centers. Data are collected on type of provider, medications, primary diagnoses and presence of long-lasting conditions.
  • National Hospital Care Survey (NHCS) NHCS allows examination of care provided across treatment settings. Data cover physicians' diagnoses, services and procedures, types of healthcare professionals seen, hospital characteristics, discharge diagnoses, surgical and diagnostic procedures, and prescriptions for ambulatory visits.
  • National Post-acute and Long-term Care Study (NPALS) NPALS monitors trends in the supply, provision, and use of the major sectors of paid, regulated long-term care services. Data cover mental illness, depression, and service use.
  • National Survey of the Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD and Tourette Syndrome (NS-DATA) NS-DATA collects information about children 2 to 15 years old in 2011-2012 who had ever been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and/or Tourette syndrome (TS) with the goal of better understanding diagnostic practices, level of impairment, and treatments for this group of children.
  • National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) NVDRS collects data from medical examiners, coroners, police, crime labs, and death certificates to understand the circumstances surrounding violent deaths, including suicide. NVDRS can also provide details on the circumstances that may have led to violent deaths, including mental illness and mental disorders.
  • Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) PRAMS collects data on maternal attitudes and experiences before, during, and after pregnancy. Surveillance research includes the prevalence of self-reported postpartum depression and anxiety symptoms.
  • School Health Policies and Practices Study (SHPPS) SHPPS is a national survey assessing school health policies and practices at the state, district, school, and classroom levels. Collected data includes mental health and social service policies.
  • WISQARSTM CDC's WISQARS (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) is an interactive database system that provides customized reports of injury-related data, such as intentional self-harm including suicide.
  • Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) YRBSS monitors health-risk behaviors including tobacco use, substance abuse, unintentional injuries and violence, and sexual behaviors that contribute to unintended pregnancy and STDs.
  • National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) NSCH examines the health of children including those with special needs with an emphasis on well-being, such as medical homes, family interactions, parental health, school and after-school experiences, and safe neighborhoods. The survey also collects information on the presence of a mental or behavioral problem.

Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)

Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS)

Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) - Depression and Suicide

Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) - Bullying

Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) - Eating Disorders

Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) - Support