The U.S. health system gives much attention to screening, diagnosis, and treatment
of overt mental illness, and much less to preventing mental health problems and
the enhancement of mental health. The focus of this blog is on improving the
quality of life and the prevention of mental health problems through healthy living.
As with all of the health conditions dealt with in this blog, the reader is advised to
seek professional help from a reputable well-trained health care provider when any
form of physical or mental illness occurs.
Defining mental health
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), good mental health is “a state
of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with
the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make
a contribution to his or her community.”
One formulation of mental health indicators is that they encompass three domains:
emotional well-being (including perceived life satisfaction), psychological well-being
(such as having a purpose in life and positive relationships), and social well-being
(for example, social acceptance and a sense of community). The presence
of attentive and loving parents, siblings, and other caregivers in early life is especially
important to foster good mental health. The social conditions that support
good mental health include the conditions that lead to the satisfaction of basic human
needs such as adequate housing, personal safety and safe neighborhoods, jobs
with fair wages, high-quality education, equity in life opportunities, and access to
high-quality health care.
Mental illness is defined as “health conditions that are characterized by alterations
in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with dis-
tress and/or impaired functioning.” It is estimated that in any given year, one in
five children and one of four adult Americans will develop a mental health disorder
that goes beyond normal emotional ups and downs, and that begins to interfere with
daily life. Common mental health illnesses include mood disorders, such as depression
and bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, substance use disorder, and anxiety
disorders, such as panic disorder and social anxiety disorder. It is estimated that
about 10% of people in the U.S. have some form of anxiety disorder at any time.
Mental health problems occur across the entire lifespan. Because the young human
brain remains more plastic and continues to develop through about age 24,
therapeutic interventions in childhood that address mental health disorders improve
the chances of favorable mental health outcomes. Interventions are most effective
when tailored to the specific needs of those at the developmental stages of infants,
toddlers, school-age children, adolescents, transitional age youth (18-24), adults,
and geriatric patients.
By age 29, more than half of Americans will have had an impairing and clinically
significant psychiatric illness, such as an anxiety disorder, a psychotic disorder,
a substance use disorder, or major depressive disorder.10 In 2015, nearly 18% of
adults in the U.S. reported having a mental, behavioral or emotional disorder, and
3% of people age 12 or older and 7% of people age 18 to 25 reported the use of
an illicit drug.
Mental health and substance misuse disorders are a leading cause
of disease burden, rivaling cancer, and cardiovascular disease. In contrast to other
wealthy countries, the U.S. has had higher rates of death from unintentional poisonings,
the majority of which were due to drug overdoses. Unfortunately, as the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, “it is estimated that only
about 17% of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health.”
Mental health problems are costly
Mental health issues are among the top 10 reasons for disability in the U.S. In 2013,
the New York Times reported that the U.S. spends about $150 billion annually on
direct medical costs to care for an estimated 11.5 million U.S. adults with a debilitating
mental illness. Indirect costs to the U.S. economy are equally important,
with a cost of about $193 billion annually in lost earnings. In addition, an increased
need for public services like food stamps and subsidized housing may require government
outlays of another $140 to $160 billion a year. The Times author concluded
that, all together, our cumulative mental-health issues — depression, schizophrenia,
and bipolar disorder, among others — are costing the U.S. economy about a
half-trillion dollars—more than the government spent on all of Medicare during the
2012 fiscal year.
This blog presents opinions and ideas and is intended to provide helpful general information. I am not engaged in rendering advice or services to the individual reader. The ideas, procedures and suggestions in that are presented are not in any way a substitute for the advice and care of the reader’s own physician or other medical professional based on the reader’s own individual conditions, symptoms or concerns. If the reader needs personal medical, health, dietary, exercise or other assistance or advice the reader should consult a physician and/or other qualified health professionals. The author specifically disclaims all responsibility for any injury, damage or loss that the reader may incur as a direct or indirect consequence of following any directions or suggestions given in this blog or participating in any programs described in this blog or in the book, The Building Blocks of Health––How to Optimize Your Health with a Lifestyle Checklist (available in print or downloaded at Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble and elsewhere). Copyright 2021 by J. Joseph Speidel.