General Mental Illness - Frequently Asked Questions

How common is mental illness?
Brain and behavior disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older – about 1 in 4 adults – suffer from one or more of these disorders in a given year. Brain and behavior disorders are common among children in the United States and are increasingly being recognized and diagnosed at an early age. Just over 20 percent (or 1 in 5) children live with a debilitating mental illness.

What are the most frequent types of mental illness?
Out of the 10 leading causes of disability identified and tracked in the United States and other developed countries; four are brain and behavior disorders: major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It is estimated that:

  • 18% of American adults will suffer from an anxiety disorder each year
  • 7% of Americans will suffer from major depressive disorder each year
  • 4% of American adults will suffer from attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder each year
  • 4% of American adults will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder each year
  • 3% of American adults will suffer from bipolar disorder each year
  • 1% of American adults will suffer from schizophrenia each year
  • 1% of American adults will suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder each year
  • 1 in every 88 8-year-old children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder

How are mental health diagnoses made in young children?
Just like adults, children with mental illness are diagnosed after a doctor or mental health specialist carefully observes signs and symptoms. Some primary care physicians can diagnose children, but most will make a referral to a specialist who is better trained in diagnosing and treating children. Before diagnosing a mental illness, the doctor or specialist will try to rule out other possibilities for the symptoms or behaviors causing concern. Generally, the process involves:

  • Evaluating the familial history of any important medical problems, including any brain and behavior disorders.
  • Tracking the development of current concerns – how long have the symptoms or behaviors been an issue; how the overall development of the child is; etc.
  • Creating a personal history for the child: e.g., if any physical or psychological traumas have been experienced; are there any issues at school or with socializing. This history may include input from parents, teachers, and other caretakers.
  • In the United State, brain and behavior disorders are diagnosed based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV).

Are there early warns signs to look out for before the illnesses reach a critical state?
Early warning signs and symptoms in adults include:

  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse

Early warning signs and symptoms in older children and pre-adolescents include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger

Early warning signs and symptoms in younger children include:

  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e., refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

Where can I find mental health resources in my community?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a services locator for mental health and substance abuse treatment programs and resources nationwide. Call 1-800-950-6264 and select option #2. To learn more about insurance coverage for mental health services and for questions concerning Social Security Income Disability issues or Supplemental Security call 1-800-772-1213. A comprehensive list of resources can be found on our website: