US Pharm. 2012;37(11):8.

In developed countries, mental illnesses constitute a more sizable proportion of disability than other types of disease. They also can exacerbate the morbidity of coexisting disorders. Mental illness, therefore, is a significant public health problem that requires prompt and accurate identification.

Prevalence: In 2009, U.S. adults experienced an average of 3.5 mentally unhealthy days during the previous 30 days. The mean number of mentally unhealthy days was highest in southeastern states. According to the CDC, 25% of adults have reported having a mental illness, and nearly half of adults will develop at least one mental illness during their lifetime. The prevalence of lifetime diagnosis of depression (16.1%) exceeded that of anxiety (12.3%). Mental illness costs more than $300 billion per year, including disability benefits (7.6%), health care expenditures (31.5%), and lost earnings/wages (60.9%). Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System data for 2008 indicate that 8.2% of adults—most of them (62.1%) female—were currently experiencing depression, and 6.8% had moderate-to-severe depression. Non-Hispanic white patients were most affected by depression (82%); non-Hispanic black and Hispanic patients were significantly less affected (5.7% and 5.3%, respectively). These prevalence rates corresponded to 7.5% of all non-Hispanic white, 12.7% of all non-Hispanic black, and 5.3% of all Hispanic adult populations. The prevalence of depression was highest in patients older than 55 years (49.8%), followed by those aged 45 to 54 years (21.4%), 35 to 44 years (15.4%), and 25 to 34 years (9.9%).

Ambulatory Care: Mental health patients made 47.8 million visits (5% of all ambulatory-care visits) for the treatment of mental health disorders; women made 61.5% of visits. Irrespective of the type of mental health disorder experienced, patients went to physicians’ offices for treatment 80% of the time, versus hospital outpatient (11.8%) and emergency departments (7.5%). Of all mental health disorders in adults treated in ambulatory-care settings, anxiety (14%), major depressive disorder (15.7%), and other psychoses (17.7%) were the most common. Patients aged 18 to 44 years (77%) visited physicians’ offices for treatment of mental health disorders far less than those aged 45 to 64 years (83.3%) and older than 65 years (86%). More female than male mental health patients sought care at physicians’ offices and outpatient departments, but this was not the case for emergency department visits.

Comments: Health care professionals can play a significant role in promoting awareness of the importance of identifying mental health disorders at an early stage. Timely professional intervention can help improve quality of life and also minimize emotional, physical, and financial hardships for patients and their families.

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