NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 1, 2005

The number of people who are considered mentally ill increased during the 1990s, spurring a change and growth in the mental health care system in the United States, although, at the time, little was really known about prevalence and treatment. A recent New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study examined those trends among people 18 to 54 years of age from 1990 to 2003.

According to the researchers:

  • The prevalence of mental disorders did not change much during the decade; between 1990 and 1992 the rate was 29.4 percent and 30.5 percent between 2001 and 2003.
  • However, the rate of treatment did increase; among patients with a disorder, 20.3 percent received treatment between 1990 and 1992 to 32.9 percent between 2001 and 2003.
  • Overall, from 1990 to 1992, 12.2 percent of the population received treatment for emotional disorders, and from 2001 to 2003, 20.1 percent received treatment.

Only half of those who received treatment had disorders that met the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder, says NEJM. Additionally, significant increases in the rate of treatment were limited to certain sectors. All were independent of the severity of the disorder and of the socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents.

Despite an increase in the rate of treatment, most patients did not receive adequate treatment and continued efforts are needed to further examine the prevalence and treatment of mental disorders, concludes NEJM.

Source: Ronald C. Kessler, ?Prevalence and Treatment of Mental Disorders, 1990 to 2003,? New England Journal of Medicine, June 16, 2005.

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