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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Percent of DSM Disorder

Q. What is the percentage of the population at large that, statistically speaking, most likely has a diagnosable (DSM) disorder?

A. Of course, the exact prevalence of DSM-IV psychiatric disorders in the general population isn't easy to determine--much depends on what type of study is performed, how the interview is structured, how honestly interviewees answer, what they remember about their mental health history, etc. Nevertheless, there are some studies that help answer your question.

One Dutch study (Bijl et al, Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol Dec. 1998, pp. 587-95) interviewed over 7000 people in the general community. About 41% of the adult population under 65 had experienced at least one DSM-III-R disorder in their lifetime, with 23.3% occurring within the preceding year. Depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse/dependence were the most prevalent conditions, and there was a high degree of co-morbidity (overlap) among these diagnoses.

Cross-national comparisons have yielded similar figures for the U.S. For example, the World Health Organization (Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2000;78:413-26) used DSM-III-R and DSM-IV criteria to determine prevalence rates of mental illness in seven countries in North America, Latin America, and Europe. With respect to lifetime prevalence of any mental disorder, rates ranged from greater than 40% in the U.S. and Netherlands to levels of only 12% in Turkey and 20% in Mexico. However, other studies have suggested that, for the most serious mental disorders-schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression-prevalence rates do not differ very much from country to country.

January, 2001

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