Is there a rise of mental illness in today’s world, or are we just categorizing normal emotional responses as mental health issues? Statistics from the World Health Organization reveal a 13% increase in reported mental health disorders over the past 10 years. Globally, suicide rates are extremely high among young adults — suicide is the second-most common cause of death reported for those age 15-29.
While it’s true that growing numbers of people have a mental illness, this could be because less stigma is attached to asking for psychiatric help. A psychopathology study by the American Psychology Association reveals that over the past few decades, there’s been an increase in demand for care. Economic stressors, the global pandemic, population growth and global warming are all considered contributing factors for the increase in mental health disorders. Public awareness of mental health issues and easier access to helpful resources could account for the rise in demand for professional help.
While there’s merit to the claim of a rise in the incidence of mental illness, this a difficult area to measure mainly due to two developments. First, society is more open about reporting mental health problems and second, we now have more labels to assign to sets of behaviors. Read on to learn more about how our understanding of mental illness has changed and whether these new understandings are good or bad for society.
Labeling Mental Health Disorders
The labeling of mental health disorders has changed significantly over the years. In the past, disorders were classified under the broader label of anxiety or psychosis. After years of studies, behavioral observation and advancements in technology, the labeling of behaviors became more defined. This increased the scope of help for people who always knew something was wrong but couldn’t get a correct diagnosis.
There are now hundreds of names for various disorders, some of which weren’t classified in the past. Nowadays, there’s nearly 300 mental health disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Previously, someone who had symptoms that didn’t fall into the very small framework of labels simply wasn’t classified as having mental health issues.
Do We Just Know What to Call Things Now?: The Good and the Bad
Labeling a set of behaviors can help doctors diagnose people more easily and get them help. If a group of people exhibit a similar set of behaviors, they can be treated effectively and receive support from like-minded individuals. One of the pros of labeling theory is that it allows for better understanding to aid recovery. However, labeling could also affect a person’s lifestyle by opening them up to discrimination.
For example, stigma towards depression-related disorders has shifted over the past 20 years — but public attitudes toward misunderstood diagnoses like schizophrenia and addiction have remained the same, especially in communities where there’s lack of awareness about mental health issues.
While the labeling of disorders has improved, it may also have created a subset of problems such as fear of judgment, discrimination and insecurities. The need to label a multitude of behaviors is the subject of much debate among psychologists and mental health practitioners. In other words, it could be good or bad depending on how you look at it.
The Rate of Mental Illnesses
Because there are now so many disorders listed in the DSM-5, the percentage of mental illnesses is reportedly on the rise. Still, these mental illnesses may have always existed and just never received a clinical diagnosis. If there are more labels for behaviors, it makes sense that the percentage of mental illnesses would reflect an increase over time.
The percentage of mental illnesses in the United States is high. According to the CDC, over 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental health issue in their lifetime. At least 13% of the global population also suffers from mental illness — a statistic that could be much higher than reported, given that there’s a lack of recorded health issues in poorer communities.
With this seeming growth in the percentage of the population diagnosed with a mental illness, more types of care have developed. Care takes different forms and can be accessed by way of rehab centers, medication and a wide range of therapies.
Why Have Mental Illness Issues Increased?
- Pressure from social media — people tend to share highlights of their life, making younger generations feel insecure
- Lack of boundaries or filters when it comes to media exposure
- Increasing societal pressure to achieve more
- Easy access to drugs and illicit substances online
- A lifestyle of instant gratification that leads to anxiety if not satisfied
- Lack of community involvement
- Higher expectations among young adults
- Lack of contact with the outside world
Perhaps with society making simple shifts towards lifestyle changes, finding a support system and increasing connection with others, the percentage of mental illness will decrease over time.
Is There More Mental Illness Than Ever Before?
Twenty years ago, we didn’t have the understanding of the causes of mental illness that we do today. Thanks to research, we now have more labels for mental illnesses, which naturally means a rise in numbers of mental illness disorders. This isn’t a bad thing — it means there’s more scope for help. With increased reporting of issues, more labels and less stigma attached to mental health, it can appear that there’s more mental illness than ever before. But on the flip side, there’s never been more help available to help you cope with the pressures and stresses that can give rise to various disorders.
If you believe your own mental health issues are getting worse, help is always available. Your disorders don’t have to define your identity. Contact FHE Health at any time to help you get a diagnosis and find the right path to wellness.