A global study co-led by researchers from the University of Queensland and Harvard Medical School and published in The Lancet Psychiatry has found one in two people will develop a mental health disorder in their lifetime.

The study analyzed data from over 156,000 people across 29 countries, collected between 2001 and 2022, to assess the prevalence of major mental health disorders.

The study focused on 13 common mental health disorders, including major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and ADHD. The study found that 29 percent of male respondents and 30 percent of female respondents reported having had at least one of the mental health conditions in the 10 years prior to answering the survey’s questions.

The data showed that mental health issues typically emerge early in life, with the peak incidence of the first onset of mental health disorders being at age 15 and the median age of onset being 19 for male respondents and age 20 for female respondents. The data from this study is reinforced by a 2020 CDC online survey that found young adults were hardest hit by loneliness, anxiety, and depression during the pandemic. The survey indicated that young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were more likely to suffer mental health problems during the pandemic than any age group.

According to this survey, 63 percent of young people suffered significant symptoms of anxiety or depression. This underscores the pressing need for timely interventions, especially as this critical period coincides with significant personal and professional junctures in young people’s lives that have long-term impacts. Undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions can create barriers to further education and obtaining fulfilling and gainful employment and interfere with developing and maintaining personal relationships.

The study also explores gender differences regarding which disorders are most common among men and women. For male responders, the disorder with the highest prevalence at the time of the interview was alcohol abuse, followed by major depressive disorder and specific phobias. The most common condition for women was major depressive disorder, followed by specific phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. The study also found that women had a much higher prevalence of anxiety disorders, while men had a much higher risk of developing an addiction.

The findings of this study highlight the need for earlier interventions to improve mental health in young people and for tailored public health interventions and allocation of resources to ensure that appropriate and timely support is available to individuals at risk. Particularly in Western nations like the United States, the pandemic has played an important role in destigmatizing mental health issues, turning a spotlight on the need for more integrated care, where attention is paid to the physical, mental, and social needs of every patient. While this has contributed to more individuals seeking diagnoses and treatment, it has also exacerbated the behavioral health provider shortage.

We need to rapidly expand the mental healthcare workforce to meet an influx of patients and protect existing providers against burnout. We can also look for opportunities outside traditional healthcare settings, such as investing in community health programs and exploring how to conduct screenings and provide support through schools, workplaces, religious groups, and other community organizations.

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