If you have mental health issues, you're not alone. More importantly, you're not "weird." And you're not a social leper. Mental health issues affect tens of millions of adults in the United States each year. Mental illness can be genetic, triggered by experience or thrust upon us with no apparent warning during the most stressful stages of our lives.
A plethora of prevalent illnesses, including several anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, eating disorders and several more, fall under the mental health umbrella. Here's a breakdown of six of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. today in order to have a better understanding of the issues many people in the U.S. face — some for their entire life.
Many people's common use of the word "anxiety" to describe dealing with everyday stress has diluted how our society views anxiety. The everyday kind of anxiety can be beneficial. "Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and can actually be beneficial in some situations," the National Institute of Mental Health states on its website.
"For some people, however, anxiety can become excessive, and while the person suffering may realize it is excessive they may also have difficulty controlling it and it may negatively affect their day-to-day living."
Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in the U.S. This umbrellas several disorders that affect 18.1% of adults in the United States, according to the NIMH. These include generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias. (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recently reclassified PTSD and OCD into their own categories, but the most recent NIMH statistics still include them under anxiety.)
"The prevalence of anxiety has increased in recent decades," Scott Woodruff, psychologist at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, wrote in an email. "Research hasn't revealed exactly why, but we can speculate. Many people lack the reliable sources of security they once had."
Woodruff said the increase in anxiety disorder diagnosis is associated with increasing geographical distance from family and higher expectations in life. "Overall, we now live farther away from family members, live alone more frequently and work in companies with higher turnover. In addition, we often have high expectations for what we need to achieve, as well as how we should feel. All of this can bring enormous amounts of pressure," he said.
Woodruff added that it's entirely possible to live a normal life with anxiety through therapy. "The most important thing to know about anxiety disorders is that they are highly treatable through therapy," he said. "Clinical research has demonstrated that cognitive-behavioral therapy, which targets relations between a patient's thoughts, feelings and behaviors, consistently improves anxiety in patients."
6.7% U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2014. While it's common to use the phrase "I'm depressed" to express emotions like feeling tired at work or while watching a video about abandoned puppies on Facebook, major clinical depression is defined as "a period of two weeks or longer during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration and self-image," according to the NIMH.
Depression is unique in that it's the most prevalent mental illness in the U.S. and can cause or be the result of many other common mental health illnesses, including eating disorders and anxiety.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder affects 4.1% of adults in the U.S. The average onset for ADHD is seven years old. Symptoms include "difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior and hyperactivity (over-activity)," according to the NIMH.
Those diagnosed with ADHD get frustrated when people use the term to describe the average short attention span. "ADHD is a bonafide neurological disorder recognized by the DSM and countless major institutions, and backed up with years of research," Kevin Murphy, president of the Adult ADHD Clinic of Central Massachusetts, told BuzzFeed.
Furthermore, people with ADHD aren't stupid — they just might sometimes have trouble demonstrating their intelligence in a traditional curriculum format. "Oftentimes, people with ADHD can score very high on intelligence tests, but they have poor grades in school because it's very standardized and performance based," Murphy told BuzzFeed.
2.6% U.S. adults have bipolar disorder, which can cause "dramatic shifts in mood, energy and activity levels that affect a person's ability to carry out day-to-day tasks," the NIMH stated.
A Healthline article entitled "25 Things Only Someone With Bipolar Disorder Would Understand" described the disorder by listing items like, "You can tell when you had a manic episode by looking at your credit card bill" and "You have so many racing thoughts you should be a NASCAR analyst."
According to NIMH, roughly 1.4% of 8 year-old children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, a disorder that develops at a young age and isn't curable. Those with autism experience issues with social interaction and communication that can inhibit their ability to hold a job, make friends or function on their own at all, depending on severity. It's almost five times more common in males than it is in females, according to NIMH.
A book called Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew addressed several misconceptions about the disorder that are both offensive and harmful to those who have it. "My environment often feels hostile," one of the points in the book read. "I may appear withdrawn or belligerent or mean to you, but I'm just trying to defend myself."
Colleen, whose 18 year-old son has autism, wrote "...and then one day, he gently hugged me, showing pure love and happiness," in an Instagram post for the Autism Speaks Organization two weeks ago. "My nonverbal son on his 18th birthday."
Twenty million women and 10 million men in the U.S. have had a significant eating disorder at some point, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. The NEDA and the Mighty asked those people what they wish others knew about the commonly misunderstood disorder. Among the 40 points they discussed, one was "You can't 'just eat.' The world inside your head is so twisted and controlling, a prison of black and white; it makes you fear every aspect of your life outside of your 'control.'"