5 Common Mental Illnesses in America – An Overview of How to Identify Them


Mental illness is as prevalent and threatening in today’s society as common illnesses like heart disease and cancer. An estimated 26.2% of Americans 18 years and older suffer from some form of mental illness. That’s one in four people, which means that someone you know is suffering from a mental illness if you aren’t, yourself. There are dozens of diagnosable mental illnesses, but there are a handful that are most common among Americans.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual and sometimes extreme shifts in moods and behavior, and approximately 5.7 million American adults suffer from it. It causes people to experience intense emotional changes, much more severe than the normal ups and downs one may experience in life.

They can experience mania and depression; extreme happiness or joy then sadness or hopelessness, sometimes separately, or at the same time. Those suffering from bipolar disorder may have difficulties functioning in a relationship or work, but they have numerous resources available. Proper medication and therapy can greatly improve the quality of life for someone suffering from this disorder.


Around 2.4 million American adults are diagnosed with schizophrenia. The disease tends to affect men earlier in life than women, but on the whole, it affects both equally. Schizophrenia is a scary mental illness that causes people to possibly hear voices or believe that people are trying to hurt them, control their mind and thoughts, or read their mind.

This delusion causes the afflicted to become agitated and withdrawn from their activities and relationships, damaging many aspects of their life. Medication is the most effective way to treat and reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia as it corrects brain chemistry. However, brain chemistry is not the only contributing factor of schizophrenia. Genes and environment are also believed to have a strong hand in the development of this mental illness.

Dysthymic Disorder

Dysthymic disorder, or more commonly known as chronic mild depression, affects about 3.3 million American adults. To be diagnosed with dysthymic disorder, one must have had symptoms for at least two years. Symptoms include persistent sadness, feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, guilt or pessimism, loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed, change in appetite, insomnia, and a number of physical symptoms. There are numerous levels of depression including major depression and minor depression, with dysthymic falling in the middle.

Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety disorders can vary in levels of intensity, but generalized anxiety disorder is the most common in American adults with 6.8 million American adults diagnosed in any given year; the disorder affects twice as manywoman as men. Many Americans experience a normal amount of anxiety about stressful situations, but the difference for those with an anxiety disorder is that they experience anxiety over nearly everything, and even when there’s really nothing to be anxious about.

Those suffering from anxiety disorder have difficulty sleeping, maintaining relationships, and simply getting through the day. Their emotional symptoms are typically accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, muscle ache or tension, head aches or nausea. Generalized anxiety disorder can run in families, but that isn’t always the case, and research is being done to study the fear and anxiety controlled parts of the brain to determine if those with anxiety display different characteristics.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental illness that affects 7.7 million American adults. It’s most commonly associated with war veterans and military, but it can also affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic event such as being an attack or kidnap victim, abused, or involved a vehicular accident or natural disaster. Those experiencing PTSD feel fear and stress when they’re no longer in danger and have difficulty adapting to life after the traumatic event.

They will likely experience flashbacks and bad dreams, as well as avoid things or places that remind them of the event. Also, relationships can be difficult to maintain as those suffering can be irritable, angry, and unable to communicate their fears with loved ones. Currently research is focusing on determining whether genes play a role in the development of PTSD and have already found that many do play small roles in contributing.

Mental illness is a medical condition like any other that needs to be addressed and treated. Although many see it as taboo, mental illness rates are on the rise and those suffering should seek the help that will help improve their quality of life. There are numerous types of mental illness, but the five listed above are the most common in America today, and it is likely that someone you know may be suffering from one to a degree.

If you or someone close to you are having symptoms, don’t hesitate to see a doctor. If you were feeling sick in any other way you probably wouldn’t hesitate, so why not take as good care of your mental health as you do for the rest of your body?

Author Bio: Samantha Ducati is a loving wife and a mother of 2. She loves reading and writing so much that during her free time she writes about anything and  believes that that a pen is mightier than a sword.