Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five US adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016). Mental illnesses include many different conditions that vary in degree of severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, men and women experience many of the same mental disorders but their willingness to talk about their feelings may be very different. This is one of the reasons that their symptoms may be very different as well. For example, some men with depression or an anxiety disorder hide their emotions and may appear to be angry or aggressive while many women will express sadness. Some men may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to cope with their emotional issues. Sometimes mental health symptoms appear to be physical issues. For example, a racing heart, tightening chest, ongoing headaches, and digestive issues can be a sign of an emotional problem.

Warning signs include:

  • Anger, irritability or aggressiveness
  • Noticeable changes in mood, energy level, or appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling restless, or on edge
  • Increased worry or feeling stressed
  • A need for alcohol or drugs
  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Feeling flat or having trouble feeling positive emotions
  • Engaging in high-risk activities
  • Ongoing headaches, digestive issues, or pain
  • Obsessive thinking or compulsive behavior
  • Thoughts or behaviors that interfere with work, family, or social life
  • Unusual thinking or behaviors that concern other people

Two broad categories can be used to describe these conditions: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). 

Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment (e.g., individuals with serious mental illness as defined below).

  • In 2016, there were an estimated 44.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with AMI. This number represented 18.3% of all U.S. adults.
  • The prevalence of AMI was higher among women (21.7%) than men (14.5%).
  • Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of AMI (22.1%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (21.1%) and aged 50 and older (14.5%).
  • The prevalence of AMI was highest among the adults reporting two or more races (26.5%), followed by the American Indian/Alaska Native group (22.8%). The prevalence of AMI was lowest among the Asian group (12.1%).
  • In 2016, among the 44.7 million adults with AMI, 19.2 million (43.1%) received mental health treatment in the past year.
  • More women with AMI (48.8%) received mental health treatment than men with AMI (33.9%).
  • The percentage of young adults aged 18-25 years with AMI who received mental health treatment (35.1%) was lower than adults with AMI aged 26-49 years (43.1%) and aged 50 and older (46.8%).

Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI.

  • In 2016, there were an estimated 10.4 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States with SMI. This number represented 4.2% of all U.S. adults.
  • The prevalence of SMI was higher among women (5.3%) than men (3.0%).
  • Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of SMI (5.9%) compared to adults aged 26-49 years (5.3%) and aged 50 and older (2.7%).
  • The prevalence of SMI was highest among the adults reporting two or more races (7.5%), followed by the American Indian/Alaska Native group (4.9%). The prevalence of SMI was lowest among the Asian group (1.6%).
  • In 2016, among the 10.4 million adults with SMI, 6.7 million (64.8%) received mental health treatment in the past year.
  • More women with SMI (68.8%) received mental health treatment than men with AMI (57.4%).
  • The percentage of young adults aged 18-25 years with AMI who received mental health treatment (51.5%) was lower than adults with AMI aged 26-49 years (66.1%) and aged 50 and older (71.5%).

One common misperception – that leads to stigmatization of mental illness – is that people with issues are violent and unpredictable. According to Mental Health.gov, the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.

Indeed, people with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees.

Stigmatization, which stops people from seeking help as they’re too embarrassed, needs to be eradicated. For example, mental health issues have nothing to do with personality weakness or character flaws. Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse
  • A family history of mental health problems
  • People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

5 million men abuse prescription pain medicine a year.

Risk factors

According to the Mayo Clinic, people of any age, sex, or economic status can become addicted to drugs. Specific reasons that may affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction include:

  • Family history.  If you have a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with alcohol or drug addiction, you’re at a greater risk of developing a drug addiction.
  • Mental health disorder. If you have a mental health disorder such as depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or post-traumatic stress disorder, you’re more likely to become addicted to drugs.
  • Peer pressure. This is a strong factor in starting to use drugs.
  • Lack of family involvement. Problems at home, with parents, siblings, etc, may increase the risk of addiction.
  • Early use. Using at an early age can cause changes in the developing brain and increase the likelihood of progressing to drug addiction.
  • Taking a highly addictive drug. Some drugs, such as stimulants, cocaine or opioid painkillers, may result in faster development of addiction than other drugs.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that drug use, including smoking, can lead to diseases that can kill you, such as:

  • heart disease
  • stroke (brain injury from a blood clot)
  • cancer
  • HIV/AIDS
  • hepatitis (a liver disease)
  • lung disease

45% of part-year treatment admissions for barbiturate misuse are men.

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 21.5 million American adults (12 and older) fought a substance use disorder in 2014.
  • The same study reveals that 80 percent of people suffering from a substance use disorder in 2014 struggled with an alcohol use disorder.
  • Over 7 million Americans in 2014 battled a drug use disorder.
  • One out of every eight people suffering from a drug use disorder in 2014, struggled with both alcohol and drug use disorders at the same time.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports almost 8 million American adults battled both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, or co-occurring disorders.

Further, according to NIH and SAMHSA:

  • In 2013, adult men in America struggled with an alcohol use disorder at rates double those of women, (that’s 10.8 million as compared to 5.8 million women)
  • The only age bracket where men don’t significantly outweigh women were kids between the ages of 12 and 17. Here, both genders battle substance use disorders at similar rates.
  • Almost 70 percent of treatment admissions for substance abuse in 2010 were male.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, especially ones that have led them to addictions, please get help. It’s available and waiting for you.