Worldwide, it is recognized that “common” mental disorders like depression, generalized anxiety, specific phobias, and substance use disorders are highly prevalent and cause a significant burden on public health. A new study led by University of Zurich Professor Dr. Jules Angst (2015) suggests that, if followed over time and assessed carefully and repeatedly, around 80% of individuals will meet the criteria for a mental disorder. Most studies that assess how common mental disorders are in the general population rely on one assessment and ask individuals to think back to different periods of their life and try and remember whether they met criteria for a mental disorder. This type of procedure may underestimate how common mental health issues are if individuals have difficulty recalling their experiences. In their study, Angst and colleagues (2015) followed a cohort of around 600 participants from young adulthood for around 30 years and assessed whether they met the criteria for a mental disorder around nine times in the 30-year period. Around a third of the patients (32.5%) met criteria for major depressive disorder or an alcohol use disorder (29.3%). One in five (21%) met criteria for generalized anxiety disorder, and about one in four met criteria for a specific phobia (26.9%). All in all, around 74% of people met criteria for one of the mental disorders assessed in the study on at least one measurement occasion. The study authors discuss, this is not the first study to find that the rates of mental disorders are significantly higher if individuals are followed up over time with multiple assessments. They suggests that these findings could be used by clinicians to help reduce the stigma of mental disorders, as this evidence suggests that most individuals have experienced clinically significant mental health issues.
Society for Psychotherapy Research (SPR)
Marna S. Barrett, Ph.D.
Mood & Anxiety Disorders Treatment Research Unit
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine
3535 Market St., Suite 670
Philadelphia, PA 19104