Last year, nearly 25 million American adults were estimated to have
experienced severe psychological distress, according to the results of an
annual government survey, indicating that they may have a diagnosable mental
disorder. But of those, only about 44 percent (10.9 million) received some
sort of mental health treatment.
According to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, those who
meet criteria for serious psychological distress have a score of 13 or higher
on the K6 scale, which measures symptoms of psychological distress during one
month in the preceding year when respondents were at their worst
In addition, an estimated 30.4 million adults indicated that they had at
least one major depressive episode during their lives.
Almost 16 million American adults, or 7.2 percent of the population,
reported experiencing a major depressive episode during the year prior to the
The survey is conducted each year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA) surveys approximately 67,000
noninstitutionalized civilians across the United states in their homes (see
Painkillers Pass Pot as Drug of Choice). The numbers are then extrapolated to
arrive at U.S. population estimates.
Those categorized as having a major depressive episode reported
experiencing a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily
activities for at least two weeks and met DSM-IV criteria for major
The prior-year prevalence for a major depressive episode was higher for
women than for men (9 percent versus 5.3 percent) in 2006.
The survey also found that serious psychological distress was associated
with substance use.
For instance, past-year drug and alcohol use was higher in adults with
serious psychological distress (27.2 percent) than in those without serious
psychological distress (12.3 percent).
Among adults with serious psychological distress, nearly 1 in 4 (22.3
percent) was estimated to be dependent on or to have abused drugs or alcohol,
while only 7.7 percent of those without mental health problems did so.
The survey also measured the prevalence of mental health treatment among
adults and adolescents in the United States.
It found, for example, that 69 percent of those classified as having a
major depressive episode in the prior year had received treatment for
depression in that same period.
Last year, there were 10.5 million adults (4.8 percent) who reported an
unmet need for treatment or counseling for mental health problems in the prior
year—that is, there was a perception of insufficient treatment—a
number that included 4.8 million adults who did not receive any mental health
Among the 5.6 million adults who did receive some type of treatment for a
mental health problem in the prior year, almost 20 percent said that they felt
that the treatment they received was not sufficient. For those who did not
receive any mental health treatment, the cost of treatment was indicated as
the number-one barrier (see
The survey also found that there were 3.2 million young people aged 12 to
17 who reported at least one major depressive episode during their lives. Of
those, almost 39 percent received treatment for depression—23.9 percent
saw a medical doctor or other professional for counseling but not treatment
with medications, 2.1 percent used prescription medication only, and 12.7
percent received both types of treatment. ▪