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Half the population will develop a mental health disorder

A new collaborative global study has predicted one in two people will be diagnosed with at least one mental health disorder in their lifetime. Here’s what science is saying.

In a revealing new study, combined research from some of the world’s top research facilities is shining a concerning light on the projected mental health state of our global population. 

Led by the University of Queensland’s Professor John McGrath and Harvard Medical School’s Ronald Kessler, the study combined the findings of experts from 27 additional countries. Together, select findings from the World Health Organisation’s World Mental Health Survey initiative were carefully examined, focussing on data from over 150,000 adults spanning 29 countries from 2001 to 2022. 

While a few particular disorders appeared to be the most common among the data, the study concluded additional factors influence a person’s natural predisposition to developing a disorder.

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“The most common were mood disorders such as major depression or anxiety,” Professor McGrath tells SciTechDaily.  “We also found the risk of certain mental disorders differed by sex.”

The three most common mental health disorders among women:

  • Depression
  • Specific phobia (a disabling anxiety that interferes with daily life)
  • Post-traumatic stress (PTSD)

The three most common mental health disorders among men:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Depression
  • Specific phobia

The impact of early life experiences

While the results reflect the prevalence of mental health disorders by age 75, the study’s lead authors stress the importance of recognising that most disorders typically first emerge between childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. 

“We found that half of the people who develop a mental disorder before age 75 years have their first onset by age 19 years for male respondents or 20 years for female respondents,” the study authors write. 

“The peak age of first onset was at 15 years old, with a median age of onset of 19 for men and 20 for women,” Professor McGrath adds. “This lends weight to the need to invest in basic neuroscience to understand why these disorders develop.”

Upon publishing the study’s findings, Professor McGrath and the wider team of authors call for further research and investment in mental health services for all ages. With projected rates of mental health disorders already so high, the continuation of services offering support to people of all ages is imperative to ensure the situation doesn’t worse.

“Services need to be able to detect and treat common mental disorders promptly, and be optimized to suit patients in these critical parts of their lives,” Professor Kessler of Harvard Medical School shares. 

“By understanding the age at which these disorders commonly arise, we can tailor public health interventions and allocate resources to ensure that appropriate and timely support is available to individuals at risk.” 

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