Skip to main content
  • North: min
  • West: min
  • South: min
  • Jackson: min

Health library

Back to health library

Mental illness facts

Many myths about mental illness are still widely believed and interfere with people getting the treatment they need.

Misconceptions about mental illness abound. And too often, they get in the way of proper treatment.

These facts can help set the record straight.

Mental illness is a medical condition. Research shows that mental illnesses are disorders of the brain that can be diagnosed and treated. Brain-imaging techniques reveal physical differences between the brains of healthy people and the brains of mentally ill people.

Mental illness can happen to anyone. Nearly 1 in 5 American adults lives with a mental illness. These illnesses affect people of every race, socioeconomic class, education level and culture.

Depression is an illness, not a mood. About 20 million Americans experience a major depressive episode each year. These disorders of the brain cause changes in sleep, appetite and energy. They slow thinking and cause irritability, hopelessness and guilt. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, major depression is the leading cause of disability for people in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 44.

Children are affected too. Half of youths ages 13 to 18 have had a mental illness during their lives, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Depression isn't normal for seniors. Depression isn't normal for anybody. Effective medical treatment is available for seniors with depression.

Suicide talk is serious. According to Mental Health America, 80% of people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions. If someone talks about or threatens suicide, listen and take their concerns seriously. 

Ignoring mental illness costs big. According to some estimates, mental illness costs the nation tens of billions of dollars. Programs that improve and speed up diagnosis and treatment reduce the total cost of mental illness.

There is hope. Treatment can help relieve symptoms for people with mental illness. Talk to your healthcare provider if you or someone you love needs help.

Reviewed 1/5/2022

Related stories

Health e-newsletter