The Facts

MENTAL ILLNESS – By the NumbersSPP-750x380

What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.

Serious mental illnesses include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizoaffective disorder. Among other types of mental health conditions are obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder. The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible.

Mental illnesses can affect individuals of any age, race, religion or income. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.

Common Myths About Mental Illness

  • Those living mental illnesses are dangerous.
  • People with mental illnesses are mentally retarded.
  • Mental illness is the result of sin.
  • Mental illness or lack of healing is caused by a deficiency of faith in God.
  • Those living with mental illnesses should be treated differently and viewed primarily through the lens of their diagnosis.
  • Mental illness is the result of personal failure.
  • Mental illness is caused by problems within families or results from bad parenting.
  • People with mental illnesses are not spiritual people.
  • Individuals with mental illnesses are demon possessed.
  • People with mental illnesses are all the same.

What Does Recovery Look Like?

The recovery journey is unique for each individual. There are several definitions of recovery, some grounded in medical and clinical values, some grounded in context of community and some in successful living. One of the most important principles is this: Recovery is a process, not an event. The uniqueness and individual nature of recovery must be honored. While serious mental illness impacts individuals in many ways, The Well believes that all individuals can move toward recovery.

Mental Illness by the Numbers

Critical Need*:

  • Mental illnesses are highly prevalent, life-threatening diseases that affects millions of people all around the world.
  • One in five adults—approximately 51.5 million Americans—experience mental illness in a given year.
  • One in 20—about 13.1 million—live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Approximately 55 percent of adults and half of youth ages 6-17 living with a mental illness received no mental health services in the previous year.
*National Alliance on Mental Illness – NAMI (

Increasing Demand, Inadequate Treatment:

  • Texas ranks 50th among the states for access to mental health care. (Mental Health America)
  • Metrocare, the largest provider of mental health services in North Texas, serves more than 60,000 adults and children annually. (Metrocare Services)
  • A minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 people is considered necessary to provide minimally adequate treatment for individuals living with severe mental illness. Texas has just 8.1. (Treatment Advocacy Center)

The Impact on Society*:

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders are the most common cause of hospitalization for all people in the U.S. under age 45 (after excluding hospitalization relating to pregnancy and birth).
  • Rates of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are twice as high in adults with serious mental illness when compared to the general population
  • Students ages 6-17 living with mental, emotional or behavioral concerns are three times more likely to repeat a grade.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. (more common than homicide) and the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34 years.
  • More than 90 percent of those who die by suicide show symptoms of a mental health condition.
  • Approximately one in five people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. live with a serious mental health condition.
  • Over a third of adults incarcerated in the state and federal prison system have a diagnosed mental illness.
  • Seventy percent of youth in juvenile justice systems have been diagnosed with at least one mental health condition.
*National Alliance on Mental Illness – NAMI (

Frequently Diagnosed Mental Illnesses

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and schizoaffective disorder are some of the most debilitating mental illnesses. The Well Community serves those struggling with these and other related conditions.


Schizophrenia is a serious, chronic mental illness that affects approximately  0.25% to 0.64% of American adults. It impacts a person’s thoughts, emotions and ability to relate to others. It can cause hallucinations, delusions and difficulty concentrating, as well as social withdrawal and emotional unresponsiveness. These symptoms can severely impair the ability to function on a day-to-day basis, and can make it difficult to determine what is real and what is not. Many who struggle with schizophrenia also deal with substance abuse.

Symptoms of schizophrenia usually begin to appear in a person’s late teens or in early adulthood, though they often occur later in women. Research has linked schizophrenia to several possible causes, including aspects of brain chemistry, genetics, environmental factors and substance abuse.

Because schizophrenia can cause behaviors that seem unusual, inappropriate and erratic, those who suffer from it are often targets of social prejudice. Many are not effectively treated. In many cases, those who struggle with schizophrenia are not aware of their condition, making treatment especially challenging. And, a lack of appropriate services devoted to individuals living with schizophrenia has left many improperly placed in jails and prisons without the help they need. Others are homeless and vulnerable to exploitation and crime.

Schizophrenia can be treated, though no single, simple course of treatment exists. Along with medication, psychosocial rehabilitation and other community-based support services, like those offered by The Well Community, can help those with schizophrenia lead meaningful and satisfying lives.

Learn more at the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance. See also Scrapping Seven Myths About Schizophrenia.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a severe and persistent mental illness that impacts approximately 2.8% of Americans every year. It causes dramatic, recurring shifts in a person’s mood and energy. These highs and lows, known as mania and depression, impact the ability to think and function.

Unlike the mood swings that many people experience when they are hungry or tired, the highs and lows of bipolar disorder can last weeks or months. In addition, individuals managing bipolar disorder experience mood changes that are much more severe than those experienced by most people.

During an episode of mania, a person may feel extremely irritable, euphoric or invincible. This state can involve impulsivity, rapid speech, racing thoughts, agitation, decreased need for sleep and pleasure-seeking or risk-taking behavior. During times of depression, they may feel incredibly sad, hopeless or lethargic. Extreme states of both mania and depression may also involve hallucinations or delusions.

Bipolar disorder can develop at any time in a person’s life, though it most commonly emerges in late adolescence or early adulthood. Genetics, brain structure and stress are all believed to play a role in the development of this condition.

Bipolar disorder can negatively impact every aspect of a person’s life, and without treatment the damage it causes grows. But, with treatment, many people with bipolar disorder can live meaningful and productive lives.

While medication can help stabilize moods and manage symptoms, it does not take away all signs of the condition. A holistic treatment plan includes medication, therapy and support from family and friends. The Well Community provides therapeutic programs, spiritual encouragement and other mental health services.

Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the International Bipolar Foundation to learn more. See also Busting 10 Myths about Bipolar Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression, also known as clinical depression, touches 8% of the U.S. population each year. It is a serious mental illness that causes a person to feel sad, hopeless, discouraged, unmotivated or disinterested for more than two weeks at a time. It goes well beyond “the blues,” impacting not only mood, but also behavior and physical health. Symptoms can include difficulty concentrating, insomnia, excessive sleep, fatigue, changes in appetite, profound guilt and thoughts of suicide. Major depression is more common in women and young adults than in men and older adults.

Left untreated, the symptoms of depression tend to worsen. These symptoms can seriously impair a person’s ability to function and may lead to suicide. Researchers believe that more than half of people who commit suicide are experiencing depression.

As devastating as this disease can be, it is treatable in most people. The availability of effective treatments (medications and counseling) and a better understanding of the biological basis for depression may lessen the barriers that can prevent early detection, accurate diagnosis and the decision to seek medical treatment. Alongside those resources, The Well Community provides a place to belong and helps those with major depression overcome feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

For more information on depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Schizoaffective Disorder

Schizoaffective disorder is an ongoing mental illness that causes symptoms of both schizophrenia (such as delusions and hallucinations) and of mood disorders (such as mania and depression). It can severely interfere with an individual’s ability to function, affecting relationships and livelihoods. Some struggling with this mental illness experience periods when symptoms are especially severe, followed by periods of improvement.

Those struggling with this illness are often incorrectly diagnosed as having schizophrenia or bipolar disorder since the symptoms are similar to those of both of illnesses. Since schizoaffective disorder only affects approximately 0.3% of Americans, it is not only less common than the related illnesses, it is less well-known.

The cause of schizoaffective disorder has not yet been determined. However, factors such as genetics, stress, drug use and brain chemistry and structure are believed to contribute to the development of this mental illness.

Medication, psychotherapy and self-management strategies can help those dealing with schizoaffective disorder address symptoms. For many members of The Well, the challenges of this illness can be overwhelming. But being with others who understand and having access to The Well’s programs helps those with schizoaffective disorder to have support and hope. Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness to learn more about this condition.

In addition to these debilitating mental illnesses, many members of The Well Community also struggle with the following mental health conditions.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States. It is estimated that over 19% of American adults deal with an anxiety disorder. Many begin experiencing symptoms before adulthood.

This group of related conditions, which includes generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, panic disorder and social anxiety disorder, all involve feelings of intense distress and fear. These symptoms go beyond temporary worry or concern and can become overwhelming, interfering with day-to-day activities.

Each type of anxiety has unique symptoms, and each is treated slightly differently. Common treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy and medication, as well as lifestyle strategies. To learn more, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Individuals living with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience unwanted repetitive and intrusive thoughts (known as obsessions), and excessive urges to carry out certain behaviors (compulsions). These thoughts and behaviors are unwanted, intrusive and disturbing, and can consume a great deal of a person’s time and energy. Although most people dealing with OCD realize that their obsessions and compulsions are irrational, they struggle to stop them. These challenges can lead to great anxiety and can interfere with daily functioning.

Approximately one in a hundred adults will be diagnosed with OCD at some point in their lives. Symptoms often first appear in childhood, the teen years or early adulthood.

OCD can be treated effectively. Many find that psychotherapy, medication and exercise help them manage anxiety. Learn more from the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the International OCD Foundation.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD affects over 9 million Americans who have experienced or witnessed trauma, including military combat, rape, assault, child sexual abuse, natural disasters and serious accidents. It causes both physical and emotion symptoms such as intrusive memories or flashbacks, recurrent nightmares, hypervigilance, physical reactions to triggers, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and feelings of numbness or guilt. Individuals dealing with PTSD may avoid places, people or activities that remind them of the trauma, which can lead to isolation.

According to the National Center for PTSD, approximately 10% of women and 4% of men develop PTSD in their lifetimes, though these rates are much higher among those who have served in the military. PTSD is increasingly thought to be a normal variation of human response to an extreme threat. The same responses that can be life-saving during a crisis can leave some people with ongoing psychological symptoms.

PTSD is treatable, and early intervention can help prevent lifelong symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other types of psychotherapy, as well as medication, can help those with this condition find relief. Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the National Center for PTSD.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

BPD causes difficulty in regulating emotions, resulting in instability in a person’s moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image and behavior. Symptoms include severe mood swings, intense anger, impulsivity, poor self-image, fear of abandonment and feelings of emptiness. Those dealing with this condition may have suicidal thoughts and may engage in self-harming behaviors.

The emotional turmoil of BPD can disrupt a person’s relationships, career and ability to plan for the future. Although this mental illness is relatively common, affecting 1.4% of the U.S. population, it is less known than other mental health disorders, which can make it difficult for those affected by it to obtain treatment.

In recent decades, much progress has been made in understanding and treating BPD. But unfortunately, there are not enough resources or qualified professionals to effectively provide the extended treatment that is often required. A treatment plan often involves psychotherapy, medication and a strong support system. To learn more, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder.

Other Mental Illnesses

Other common mental illnesses include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eating disorders and dissociative disorders. Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness to learn more about these and other mental illnesses.


When mental illnesses are left untreated, the symptoms can become more pronounced. Early diagnosis is important so that those who are struggling can receive effective treatment.

Because mental illnesses are typically persistent illnesses, continuous maintenance is recommended to prevent recurring symptoms. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is essential that each person struggling with a mental health issue have a plan that is specific to his or her needs.

Effective treatment plans usually include medication, psychotherapy, education, self-management strategies and external supports such as family, friends and formal support groups. The Well Community provides a place of support and assistance for those dealing with many kinds of mental illnesses. Our services, combined with the other components of an individual’s treatment, help to prevent relapse and reduce the severity of symptoms.


An effective treatment plan for mental illnesses usually includes medication to address the chemical imbalances in the brain that cause most disorders. There have been major advancements in research and in the development of psychotropic medications in the last decade. Several classes of medications are now available that help psychosis (antipsychotics), depression (antidepressants), anxiety symptoms (anti-anxiety medications) and mood instability (mood stabilizers and others).

Different people respond to medications in different ways. While these drugs are usually effective, they also have side effects that need to be monitored and minimized. Often, multiple types of medication must be assessed in order to find the one, or ones, that are the most effective for an individual. These negative side effects, along with a sense of being “cured” and a condition called anosognosia are factors that contribute to non-compliance in medication treatment. At The Well, community members encourage one another to participate fully in their individual plans for better mental health, including following through on medication recommendations. To find the most up-to-date information on medicines used for mental illness conditions, visit



Mental Health America –

Boston University’s Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation –

Wellness Recovery Action Program (WRAP) –

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) –

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) –

National Alliance on Mental Illness –

Grace Alliance (Waco, Texas) –