Some Statistics on Mental Illness Disability and Stigma

Some mental illness and disability stats

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 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 where I live. 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 in the world. I’m curious (although not sufficiently curious to take the time to hunt for the information) 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’s a lot of people.

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.

Stop the stigma: Resources to challenge mental illness stigma

You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.

57 thoughts on “Some Statistics on Mental Illness Disability and Stigma”

  1. ivanabikorovih

    Oh my, that many! I had no idea it was that bad. I realised just a few months back I’ve experienced the stigma mostly as despising me for things I cannot do. That I can’t be as productive as a healthy person.

      1. ivanabikorovih

        My now close friend that visits whenever possible from UK admitted he was scared of me being bipolar. Now he thinks I am one of the most rational people he’s ever met. Might be an overstatement, but how often are we given a chance? I still didn’t get used to constant contempt.

  2. I’m one of the ‘skeptical about statistics’ people. However the one about ‘lifetime mental illnesses (and disability – which I added and they didn’t count)’ at 50% rings true. My depression (life time) began at age 13 or so. I became ‘disabled’ by my mental illness(es) by age 50. I’ve never had someone shun me (that I know of) because they learned I had a mental illness, but I have gotten some mighty odd looks and a sort of reserve from some folks, where they were friendly and open BEFORE they knew. My family tree (in which there are several mental illnesses) has experienced it though…shunning, stigma, shame and blame. It might be the time in history that those people lived though. I thank God that I was born in a time that is more accepting of mental illness and the sufferers, even though there’s a long way to go yet.

  3. As another mental health nurse, a lot of the figures are like I would have imagined. However, I was not aware that 60% of counties in the USA didn’t have psychiatrists. How on earth and where do they then get their stats from? lol

    1. I would guess that the numbers come from state licensing boards and the address psychiatrists list as their primary practice. I just found a figure, although it’s several years old, that 62% of counties are designated as rural, which is awfully close to that 60% with no psychiatrists figure.

  4. After reading your blog , i really understand that what the shit is going in our society and your blog convey the message that we have to stop all this. Your blogs are awesome

  5. Wow, I could leave it a just wow but I won’t.

    I don’t know that I’d say I was surprised so much as shocked by some of the statistics. And while I didn’t know any of these some didn’t really surprise me. For instance, it didn’t surprise me how many people are home-bound. I do wonder how many of such people may have developed their MI as a result of being housebound due to their physical disability???

    The Canadian statistics on stigma are pretty sad. It seems clear that people associate MI with “crazy”. I can only imagine what they imagined when asked those questions. Would be interesting to know what the respondents thought of when they thought of a MI person. Are they even aware of the range of MI that exists?

    I’m afraid that in the US politicians overall don’t much care about mental health or illness until it’s the “reason” behind a shooting. Then they spout off about needing better mental health care then nothing happens and we all go back to life the way it was.

    It’s so sad to hear those suicide statistics, especially among the Inuit. I wonder what’s behind that and how it might be changed. It’s very depressing as well that suicide is so prevalent among the young. Let’s hope and pray that the future is a more mental wellness conscious place/time, not just certain sects of people.

    Thanks for this informative and thought provoking post.

    1. Yeah I’d be curious to know about that mental and physical diability stat what the nature of the overlap there.

      With Indigenous populations, I think there are a whole whack of factors that drive up suicide rates, like poverty, intergenerational trauma, and the lasting effects of colonialist practices.

  6. These are interesting stats. I became depressed at age 7, but didn’t expect the numbers for early-onset mental illness to be that high either. The excuse-seeking thing has been used against me a lot.

  7. I must also say the stat about people thinking mental illness is an “excuse” is alive and well. It seems many folks don’t take mental illness seriously unless it’s extreme, like someone hallucinating or harming themselves. A lot of older folks – no offense to older folks – come from the era of “buck up”, “an idle mind…”, “just stay busy” kind of thinking; I know because my mother has spoke of that idea and her parents. Then there’s the fact that in some cases I think people (politicians) do “use” the title mental illness to excuse something. Why not call mass shootings a result of that person being mentally ill, that way we might redirect focus to mental illness and not weapons.

  8. 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.

    I’m guessing here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the places with no psychiatrists are rural, in which case they are probably also poorer than the cities and also more socially conservative and stimatising.

    Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death overall, and 2nd leading cause in the 10-34 age bracket. That’s a lot of people.

    I’ve seen this stat, and similar ones, a lot in the past and I’ve become a bit suspicious. Not that I think that it’s incorrect, or that there isn’t a human tragedy behind every statistic, but I think it’s worth noting that something will always be the leading (or second leading) cause of death. The fact that suicide is way up on the list is arguably at least in part because people aged 10-34 in the West are very unlikely to die at all, especially compared with previous generations or with the developing world. Once you’ve removed plague, smallpox, cholera, famine, World Wars etc. from the fatality list and are chipping away at things like cancer, suicide is going to creep up into a higher position even without an increase in absolute numbers of suicides. So I would like to see some statistics for suicide over time, rather than just a snapshot at one moment.

    Some of the other stats are really scary though.

    1. I agree, that age bracket under normal conditions is unlikely to be dying much from natural causes. I think those rates are most relevant as a comparison when looking at the 10-34 demographic in marginalized populations.

      Caz had mentioned in her comment about the 60% of counties figure, and I looked it up, and that’s almost an exact match to the percentage of counties that are rural.

  9. People fear what they do not understand.
    It always seems to be the case that unless something directly affects those within their own household, close family or friends, then they are not bothered to take in much information about something.

    How are you doing Ashley?!

    I just thought I would pop by again…

    I’ve just started online therapy with Dr Nicholas Jenner whom I saw by chance on wordpress and I can recommend his services fully.

    He has exceeded my expectations… and feel very lucky to have come across him. Best therapist I’ve ever had.

  10. “55% of Canadians said they would be unlikely to marry someone with a mental illness” < Well, that's 55% of Canada's population missing out on a potentially incredible relationship and marriage! I wonder how things have changed since 2008… Some very worrying statistics indeed. Change is painfully slow and sadly stigma globally seems so ingrained and pervasive…xx

  11. It makes me so sad and frustrated reading these statistics, because all though Mental Health Illnesses are spoken about more these days, there never seems to be any real progression with the stigma that surrounds it and also the support and help that is required.
    There needs to be far more education for people to reduce the stigma and miss conceptions surrounding people with a mental health illness, it’s actually scary to think that it’s still so stigmatised.

  12. Those statistics make me think there will be a lot of people hiding how they feel. Hiding could be even more harmful in the long run.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. “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.

  16. 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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