Most Common Mental Health Disorders Explained | theSkimm
Most Common Health Conditions, ExplainedSpencer Gabor

The Story

Nearly one in six adults in the US experiences mental illness each year. That’s a lot of people. We're going to talk about some of the most common mental illness you may have heard of.

What are some of the most common conditions?

Anxiety disordersPeople with anxiety disorders respond to certain things with fear as well as with physical signs of panic (think: a rapid heartbeat and sweating). Around 18% of Americans live with an anxiety disorder. This includes things like generalized anxiety disorderpanic disordersocial anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Mood disorders...These disorders involve feeling everything from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. It can interfere with everyday life for an extended period of time. Some of the most common are depression and bipolar disorder. Almost 3% of Americans have bipolar disorder, while close to 7% suffer from severe depression.

Eating disorders...When there are extreme emotions and behaviors involving weight and food, and there are irregular or disturbed eating habits. At least 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder in the US. This includes anorexia nervosabulimia nervosa, and binge eating.

Neurodevelopmental disorders...When there's a problem with the development of the central nervous system. Usually, this starts when you're a kid. Examples include autism spectrum disorderattention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), and learning disorders. Speaking of...

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)...When people are, yes, inattentive and hyperactive. Think: lack of focus, getting easily distracted, talking non-stop. While it’s most common in kids, about 4% of US adults have ADHD.

Psychotic disordersThese cause people to remove themselves from reality. Two of the most common symptoms are hallucinations (images or sounds that are not real) and delusions (false ideas that the person believes are true, even when there’s evidence against it). Schizophrenia is an example, and about 1% of adults in the US live with the disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)...When people have constant thoughts or fears that make them do certain rituals or routines. Think: hoarding or hair-pulling.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)...It’s a condition that develops after a traumatic and/or terrifying event. This includes things like sexual assault, the death of a loved one, or military combat. People with PTSD often have thoughts and memories of the event, and can be emotionally detached. There are also other trauma-and stressor-related disorders, such as acute stress disorder, where symptoms last from three days to one month after a traumatic event.

Impulse control disordersThe inability for someone to resist urges that could be harmful to themselves or others. Think: starting firesstealingcompulsive gambling.

Addiction disordersUsually alcohol and drug related problems where people start ignoring responsibilities and putting relationships aside. Reminder: the US is in the middle of an opioid crisis. Millions of Americans are addicted to opioids (think: prescriptions like OxyContin). Activities can also be addictive (think: sex or video games).

Personality disorderswhen some thoughts and feelings change a person's identity, and can cause problems in how they relate to the world. Examples include antisocial personality disorderparanoid personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder.

Sleep disorders...When your lack of sleep is more than a once-in-a-while thing. These are disorders bad enough to require clinical attention, such as insomniasleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.

These are just some of the common mental health conditions. But there are many, many more.

Are there treatments?

The good news is that most of these disorders can be treated. Treatment for everyone is different and specialists will make a plan specific to each person, based on the disorder, other mental health issues they may be dealing with, environment, finances, and even family history.

Do mental health struggles lead to other issues?

They can. Mental illness is a leading cause of disability. Untreated conditions can lead to conflicts in your relationships, isolation, problems with alcohol and other drugs, financial problems, poverty, self-harm, as well as heart disease and other medical conditions. Btw, depression can lead to heart disease (and vice-versa).

Do mental health conditions affect everyone the same way?

No. Reminder: mental health illness affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. But nearly 60% of adults with a mental illness didn’t get mental health services the previous year.

How is it different for the LGBTQ community?

LGBTQ individuals are at least twice as likely to have a mental health condition, mostly because of fear of coming out and being discriminated against. And transgender people experience discrimination because others might not want to or be able to relate.

What about people of different ethnicities?

White Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives are more likely to die by suicide than people of other groups. And while rates of depression are typically higher in African Americans and Hispanics than in whites, depression in blacks and Hispanics is also likely harder to be treated. Because people from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental health care.

Why does this happen?

There are lower rates of health insurance for these groups, meaning they likely have less access to treatment. They also might face language barriers, racism, and bias. And there’s a stigma of mental illness among minority groups.


There's no trick to preventing mental health struggles. But there are things you can do, like pay attention to warning signs, check-in with the doc, get help when you need it, and take good care of yourself.