October 24, 2011

Reports of mental health disability increase in United States

The prevalence of self-reported mental health disabilities increased in the United States among nonelderly adults during the last decade, according to a study by Ramin Mojtabai, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

At the same time, the study found that the prevalence of disability attributed to other chronic conditions decreased, while the prevalence of significant mental distress remained unchanged. The findings will appear in the November edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

“These findings highlight the need for improved access to mental health services in our communities and for better integration of these services with primary care delivery,” said Mojtabai, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Mental Health. “While the trend in self-reported mental health disability is clear, the causes of this trend are not well-understood.”

For the study, Mojtabai reviewed data from the U.S. National Health Interview Survey covering 312,364 adults ages 18 to 64 years. He found that the prevalence of self-reported mental health disability of the nonelderly adult population increased from 2.0 percent in 1997–99 to 2.7 percent in 2007–2009. According to Mojtabai, the increase equates to nearly 2 million disabled adults. He also noted that the increase in the prevalence of mental health disability was mainly among individuals with significant psychological distress who had not used mental health services in the past year. Findings showed that 3.2 percent of participants reported not having received mental health care for financial reasons between 2007 and 2009, compared to 2.0 percent from 1997 to 1999.

In a study published in August, Mojtabai and his colleagues found that prescriptions for antidepressant drugs by nonpsychiatrist providers without any accompanying psychiatric diagnosis increased more than 30 percent over the last decade.

The research was funded by the Center for Mental Health Initiatives at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.