Half Of The People You Know Will Suffer From A Mental Illness By Age 75. Here's Why It's Important

In 2019, one in every eight people, approximately 970 million, were reported as having a mental health condition. Now, a new study predicts that half the population will live with a mental illness by the time they reach 75 years old.

By Natasha Biase3 min read
Pexels/Fahri Baghirov

A study published in The Lancet Psychiatry analyzed data from 156,000 adult respondents to World Health Organization (WHO) surveys conducted between 2001 and 2022 in 29 countries across the globe.

According to The Lancet, the study aimed to evaluate the prevalence of common mental health disorders, focusing primarily on major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Nearly 55% of all respondents were women, and just over 45% were men. As a result, the study concluded that both men and women are likely to suffer from depression or a specific phobia, women are more likely to have anxiety or PTSD, and men are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances. The study also predicts that women have a higher risk of mental illness by age 75 than men.

“By age 75 years, approximately half the population can expect to develop one or more of the 13 mental disorders considered in this article,” explains the authors.

In addition, the authors suggest that governments provide financial and social investment to diagnose and treat people as early as possible: “These disorders typically first emerge in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. Services should have the capacity to detect and treat common mental disorders promptly and to optimize care that suits people at these crucial parts of the life course.”

Dozens of experts were involved in the study, including Ronald Kessler, the McNeil Family Professor of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School, Queensland Brain Institute professor John McGrath, and over 30 other colleagues from 27 countries globally.

The Mental Health Crisis at a Glance

A recent survey from CNN in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 9 out of 10 adults believe there’s a mental health crisis in the United States. While many cite the Covid-19 pandemic as causing the disturbing uptick in mental health diagnoses across the globe, psychologists suggest that young people were already suffering well before the pandemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, “In the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness – as well as suicidal thoughts and behaviors – increased by about 40% among young people.”

One in every five adults said they are “often or always depressed or lonely over the past year.”

Although the pandemic exacerbated the current mental health crisis, psychologist and professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine Kimberly Hoagwood explains that society has been “seeing really high rates of suicide and depression” for a while.

In addition to the social isolation and excessive social media use that contributed to the worsening mental health of minors during the pandemic, the rise in popularity of TikTok may also be to blame. As Banner Health points out, TikTok has ushered in an era of teenagers who use social media to self-diagnose mental conditions like ADHD, OCD, dissociative identity disorder (DID), autism, and Tourette syndrome. While many of these videos are raising awareness about and destigmatizing mental illness, lots of them, in contrast, are also potentially flooding young people’s feeds with misinformation, leading many to believe they have a condition or disorder they don't have.

Considering all these variables, it's unsurprising that nearly 15% of children in the United States were treated for mental health disorders in 2021, with the average age of adolescents seeking treatment ranging between 12 and 17 years old, CNN reports.

Similarly, adult mental health has steadily declined over the past several years. Reportedly, more than one in five adults describe their mental health as "fair or poor," a third of all adults responded that they always or often feel anxious, and one in every five adults said they are “often or always depressed or lonely over the past year.” 

Why Does It Matter?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness highlights several consequences untreated mental illness has on society, including disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, suicide, and poor quality of life.

In addition, as the National Library of Medicine points out, “mental disorders impose a significant economic burden, not just on the individuals with the disorders but also on households, communities, employers, healthcare systems, and government budgets.”

Common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression cost the global economy $1 trillion annually. 

In 2020, The Lancet published a shocking article explaining that common mental disorders such as anxiety and depression cost the global economy $1 trillion annually. This is unsurprising as poor mental health also significantly impacts business. As a result, many workplaces are seeing a higher turnover rate, employees are calling in sick more frequently, companies are failing to meet sales goals and other targets, and costly mistakes are being made due to a lack of attentiveness.

Certain mental health conditions may also impact simple aspects of someone’s day-to-day life, such as their ability to maintain healthy relationships, complete mundane tasks, and even take care of their physical health, further impacting their ability to work, support themselves financially, take care of their children, or even procreate.

While there are many resources to treat mental illnesses, there is no guarantee that people will seek treatment or diligently keep up with treatment regimens. Furthermore, the medical system may not be equipped to handle the influx of patients projected to suffer from these mental illnesses, straining it further and potentially resulting in its collapse.

Therefore, taking steps toward prevention, early intervention, and treatment is vital to ensure The Lancet's current predictions do not become a reality – because if half the population ends up suffering from a mental illness by 75, everyone will be affected, either directly or indirectly.

Closing Thoughts

Although no one can predict the future, The Lancet study is a warning sign for society to take the current mental health crisis seriously. Thankfully, hope is not lost – if society takes proactive steps to properly educate people about mental illness and its impact, there is a chance we can get ahead of the study’s alarming predictions.

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