new internationalist 132 February 1984
MENTAL HEALTH The Facts
One sixth of all people are suffering - right now - from the profound emotional distress that is commonly called mental illness. That’s about one person in every family. It could be you. Or me. Or the person sitting across the room. We may be mentally ill. Insane even. But we’re not abnormal. There are simply too many of us.
WHERE THEY ARE
One sixth of all people are mentally ill. ‘No culture or community is free of the common psychiatric disorders’ says the World Health Organisation.
Source: Technical Report No. 564, World Health Organisation, Geneva 1975.
*Mental illness is usually classified into psychosis - in which a person finds it hard to distinguish between fantasy and reality - and neurosis, in which a person, though very distressed and unable to cope with theirdaily lives, continues to have a relatively 'true' picture of the outside world. Schizophrenia and some forms of depression are often referred to as psyc hoses.
WHO THEY ARE
There is very little research on who becomes mentally ill in the developing world, though many experts suspect that people whose social role and lifestyle are undergoing dramatic change are the most at risk. In the rich world too, role conflict and change are important determinants of mental illness.
For every 1% rise in US unemployment, there is an increase of 4.3% in men’s and 2.3% in women’s first admissions to mental hospital.
Over 1/2 of unemployed people in the UK are depressed. And 1/3 of depressed people are likely to attempt suicide.
Women everywhere are twice as likely as men to suffer the kind of distress we call mental illness.
Twice as many women as men diagnosed mentally ill.
Twice as many women diagnosed schizophrenic.
11% of men and 17% of women are hospitalized at some time for mental illness, Twice as many women as men take tranquillising drugs.
Twice as many women as men are hospitalized for depression, receive electroconvulsive shock treatment, are treated as outpatients of a mental hospital. Twice as many women take tranquillising drugs.
HOW THEY’RE SERVED
At least ¼ of all illness is mental illness. But only 1% of world health spending goes on mental health - mostly in the rich world.
* i.e. those professionally trained in psychotherapy.
In most developing countries there is less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 people. In many there is less than one for every 1 million people. In some none at all. 90% of the developing world receives practically no mental health care, according to WHO.
Over half of all the psychiatrists in the world are in the US. They are part of a mental health industry costing $15 billion a year and employing 1/2million people. Today there are more mental health workers than policemen in the US.
Number of psychiatrists in the US
HOW THEY’RE TREATED
In countries where psychoactive drugs - like Valium, Largactyl, - are available, they are the main treatment offered to people in mental distress.
1/5 of prescriptions in the UK are for psychoactive drugs.
50 million people in the US are taking psychoactive drugs at any one time and 200 million prescriptions for those drugs are written each year. That’s enough medication to keep 4 million people permanently sedated.
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