Is it really true that 20 percent of Americans were mentally ill last year?

Paul K. writes:

This is the headline story in yesterday’s Drudge Report:

More than 45 million Americans, or 20 percent of U.S. adults, had some form of mental illness last year, and 11 million had a serious illness, U.S. government researchers reported on Thursday.

That 20-percent figure reminded me of a statistical finding of a Gallup survey published in June :

Gallup finds 42 percent of Americans describing themselves as either very conservative or conservative. This is up slightly from the 40 percent seen for all of 2009 and contrasts with the 20 percent calling themselves liberal or very liberal.

Do you suppose it might be the same 20 percent? Here’s some further evidence from the first article:

Young adults aged 18 to 25 had the highest level of mental illness at 30 percent, while those aged 50 and older had the lowest, with 13.7 percent, said the report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration or SAMHSA.

Compare the proportional incidence of mental illness among younger and older Americans with the proportions of liberals to conservatives among those groups, as discussed in this analysis of the Gallup survey.

Americans under 30 include the largest proportion of self-described liberals and the smallest proportion of self-described conservatives of any age group: 29 percent of the under-30s called themselves liberal… Among baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964), conservatives led 43 percent to 18 percent.

The only question that remains unanswered is this: Does liberalism cause insanity or is it the other way around?

LA replies:

I see a headline like “20 percent of Americans had mental illness last year” and I automatically dismiss it as a manufactured story, about as believable as the story I just saw on the front page of a supermarket tabloid: “William bans Charles’s gay lover from wedding.”

Paul K. replies:
I agree the 20 percent mental illness statistic is ridiculous, like the 10 percent claim for homosexuality. Someone is pushing an agenda. I just thought it was amusing that it was the same percentage as self-identified liberals.

- end of initial entry -

John P. writes:

I have a different take on this statistic. I think it’s actually possible that 20 percent of Americans did experience some form of mental illness last year. Here’s my thinking. In the absence of traditional guidelines and frames of reference, increasing numbers of people will be unable to resolve or understand the vicissitudes of life and will attribute their instability to “mental illness.” “True” mental illness, such as a serotonin imbalance, maybe not but emotional instability and confused ideation, yes I think that’s entirely possible.

We know that in the 1650s there was a perceived increase in mentally ill people by authorities in England and France, (Foucault, Madness and Civilisation, he’s not entirely useless) and this was probably a reflection of increased urbanisation in those countries during that period and the concomitant loss of rural community and traditional reference points.

I believe traditional constraints on behaviour do a lot to ameliorate and suppress mental illness in borderline cases. In their absence people wig out.

A reader writes:

For over four years I struggled with a sleeping problem which was devastating my life. After many visits to many doctors I was finally recommended to a psychiatrist. I learned that sleep disorders are a symptom of clinical depression. I never felt sad or unhappy, just debilitatingly exhausted from lack of good sleep. My doctor calls it major depressive disorder. The medicines I take help a lot.

I say all this to say that I would be included in the mental illness statistic because of my diagnosis. I consider myself in the very conservative category, so Paul K. can consider at least one “insane” person in his camp.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 20, 2010 07:46 AM | Send

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