Friday, September 8, 2017

Survey Finds Young Adults Have Highest Prevalence of Severe Mental Illness

For the first time since the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) began collecting data on the mental health and substance use of Americans, the percentage of younger adults (aged 18 to 25) in the country with severe mental illness (SMI) is greater than the percentage of SMI in adults aged 26 and older, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

At a press conference announcing the results of the 2016 NSDUH yesterday, Elinore McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., assistant secretary for mental health and substance use in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), noted that in addition to having a higher prevalence of SMI, nearly half of young adults with SMI were not receiving proper mental health treatment. Such limited access may be contributing to the growing numbers of young adults who report thinking about, planning, and/or attempting suicide, she said. Since 2008, the rate of young adults reporting suicidal thoughts or actions has risen significantly.

The NSDUH is an annual survey of 67,500 individuals ages 12 and older across the United States. The 2016 NSDUH data indicated that 44.7 million adults in the United States had a mental illness, and 23% of these people reported a SMI that significantly impacted daily living. In 2016, 5.9% adults aged 18 to 25 had an SMI compared with 5.3% of adults aged 26 to 49 and 2.7% of adults aged 50 and up.

During the press conference, HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D., stressed the public health impact of untreated SMI. “Ten million people each year have an SMI, they live 10 years shorter on average, and there are 10 times more people with SMI in prisons than inpatient psychiatric facilities,” he said. “It is within our power to help.”

The NSDUH survey also found that the use of illicit substances, including opioids and other psychoactive medications (such as stimulants and hypnotics), appears to have stabilized or even decreased slightly since last year’s survey. A total of 11.8 million people reported misusing opioids in 2016, for example, a decrease from 12.6 million in 2015. However, as McCance-Katz pointed out, this has not slowed the rise of drug-related deaths. For instance, heroin use has risen by 230% since 2002, but heroin-related deaths have gone up 630%. She noted that part of this rise might be due to an increased trend of drug mixing, such as adding fentanyl to heroin.

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “U.S. Experiences Uptick In Rates of Suicide.”