Some Concerning Statistics on Mental Illness Disability & Stigma

mental illness statistics - leading cause of disability worldwide, can decrease life expectancy by 10-20 years

While I know that people tend to be somewhat skeptical of statistics, I thought it would still be interesting to explore some of the stats that are out there related to mental illness.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

These figures come from CAMH in Toronto, Canada, on their Facts and statistics page.

Mental illness shortens lives

Mental illness can decrease life expectancy by 10-20 years. That is a huge number. Part of this is because of suicides. In Canada, on average there are 11 suicides per day. For a country of only 37.5 million, that’s a lot.

A disproportionate number of those suicides occur in indigenous communities in Canada’s far north. Suicide rates for Inuit youth are 11 times the Canadian national average, and some of the highest in the world.

Stigma is alive and well

In a 2008 study, 55% of Canadians said they would be unlikely to marry someone with a mental illness, and 42% weren’t sure if they’d be friends with someone with a mental illness. 46% of respondents viewed mental illness as an excuse people use for bad behaviour, and 27% said they would be afraid to be around someone who was mentally ill.

While I was certainly aware that there is stigma, those figures make me quite disgusted with this country I live in. What the hell is wrong with people? There’s all kinds of crazy shit going on in the world to be afraid of, and one in four are afraid of us?

Statistics Canada

According to Statistics Canada, in a 2017 survey on disabilities, 24% of people with a mental illness-related disability described themselves as housebound. This figure surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting it to be this high.

This figure came from an infographic and I didn’t take a look at the full survey results, but Stats Can notes that many of the people with mental illness disabilities also identified as having physical health disabilities, and the housebound figure would reflect that. Still, it’s a high number.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

These figures come from the American charitable organization NAMI and their Mental health by the numbers page.

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability worldwide. I’m curious (although not sufficiently curious to take the time to hunt for the information) about how this data was collected. For mental illness to be declared the leading cause of disability, that disability would have to be identified and correctly attributed in the first place. I would have guessed that this kind of thing would be very much under-reported, particularly in developing countries.

50% of lifetime mental illness has begun by age 14. This was higher than I would have expected; I would’ve guessed that more people wouldn’t have gotten sick until their late teens or early 20s.

The lesbian, gay, and bisexual demographic had an annual prevalence of mental illness of 37.4%, which was more than 10 percentage points above the next highest demographic group. This particular figure didn’t include transgender people, who are also at elevated risk of developing a mental illness.

Only 43.3% of Americans with mental illness received treatment in 2018, which is perhaps not surprising given that a whopping 60% of counties in the U.S. don’t have any psychiatrists. The average delay between symptom onset and beginning treatment is 11 years. That is really and truly pathetic.

In the juvenile justice system, 70.4% of youth have been diagnosed with a mental illness. The obvious question would be whether or not treatment is getting built into the juvenile justice system. Given the figures in the previous paragraph, it seems unlikely.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, and the 2nd leading cause in the 10-34 age bracket. That sure is high.

We need to do better

While it’s difficult to properly interpret stats without the full contextual information, what’s really clear across the board from these figures is that mental illness is doing tremendous damage. Our mental health care systems need to do better.

Did you find any of these figures surprising?

Book cover: A Brief History of Stigma by Ashley L. Peterson

My latest book, A Brief History of Stigma, looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.

You can find it on Amazon and Google Play.

There’s more on stigma on Mental Health @ Home’s Stop the Stigma page.

55 thoughts on “Some Concerning Statistics on Mental Illness Disability & Stigma”

  1. It’s not super surprising, I guess, considering stigmas around mental health (that such a high percentage don’t want to be friends with someone with a mental illness).

    I wonder how these stats compare by country though.

  2. Hey, interesting post Ashley and I understand why those stats might be a little upsetting to you, but when you flip those stats on their head I think they’re actually kind of optimistic. 45% saying they would consider marrying someone with a stigmatized mental illness. 58% saying they would certainly be friends with someone who has a mental illness. The 46% saying its just an excuse are obviously people who just don’t understand the struggles. And 73% not being afraid to be around someone with a mental illness. I think most of that sounds pretty hopeful actually. I thought the numbers would be worse. Great post.

      1. Mental “illness” is a term I don’t even like or agree with, so the average person being asked this question may be imagining sociopaths and psychopaths. Anyways, just my two cents.

            1. From the stigma research literature I’ve read, education doesn’t necessarily do much to budge the really deeply entrenched stereotypes like mental illnesss = dangerousness.

  3. “46% of respondents viewed mental illness as an excuse people use for bad behavior, and 27% said they would be afraid to be around someone who was mentally ill.”

    The lack of empathy here is astounding, but unfortunately not surprising. It takes the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes to see that, most times, people are doing the best they can with the resources they have. Most people don’t have that ability to really empathize with something they haven’t been through. This is why I really wish these sort of skills (empathy, curiosity, and community) were taught more in elementary school.

  4. I have never committed a violent act in my entire life, but some people are afraid of ME? We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and some are afraid of ME? And they think I”M the crazy one?!

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