The Non-Existent “Epidemic” of Mental Illness in the U.S.

This article was modified and condensed from a piece published in Psychiatric Times.

^^ Rates of bipolar disorder vary considerably from country to country and some evidence points to higher lifetime prevalence rates in the U.S. than in several other countries. This “…may reflect methodologic differences in diagnostic procedures or assessment methods as well as true differences in disease prevalence.” (Merikangas et al, Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(3):241-251).

** I have not dealt with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children because the criteria for this condition have changed significantly over the past 40 years, and estimates of prevalence depend crucially on how DSM criteria are applied by clinicians.

The Center for Disease Control reports that surveys asking parents whether their child received an ADHD diagnosis from a health care provider show that the percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis increased from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.

But even assuming that the diagnoses provided by clinicians were valid, a roughly 3% increase over eight years would not qualify as an “epidemic.” Commenting on these trends, the CDC notes: “It is not possible to tell whether this increase represents a change in the number of children who have ADHD, or a change in the number of children who were diagnosed. Perhaps relatedly, the number of FDA-approved ADHD medications increased noticeably since the 1990s, after the introduction of long-acting formulations.” []

The Non-Existent “Epidemic” of Mental Illness in the U.S.

This article originally appeared in:

Psychiatric Times

It is reprinted here with permission.

Ronald Pies, MD

Dr. Pies is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Lecturer on Bioethics and Humanities, SUNY Upstate Medical University; Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Tufts University School of Medicine; and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Psychiatric Times (2007-2010).


APA Reference
Pies, R. (2015). The Non-Existent “Epidemic” of Mental Illness in the U.S.. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 3, 2020, from


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Last updated: 18 Jun 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 18 Jun 2015
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