A Little Perspective: Just How Common Is Mental Illness?

Consider the statistics for a few other types of serious illness.

Heart disease

Heart disease is a serious problem. In the United States, it is responsible for 26 percent of deaths, with approximately 0.2 percent of the population dying from heart disease every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11.5 percent of adults in the U.S. have some kind of heart disease.


Cancer strikes more than 1.5 million people with new diagnoses every year in the U.S. That means about 0.5 percent of the population is diagnosed with cancer annually. This includes the entire population–all ages and races–and all forms of cancer.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that approximately 50,000 people are infected with HIV each year in the U.S. That’s about 0.01 percent of the population. An estimated 35,000 people (0.01 percent) per year develop AIDS and just over 1 million (3.7 percent) are living with AIDS.


According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million people–adults and children–in the U.S. are afflicted with diabetes. This is about 8 percent of the population. Among adults age 20 and older, 11 percent have diabetes and about 2 million cases are diagnosed each year.

These diseases are serious, life-threatening, and grief-inducing. They provide clear evidence of humanity’s Great Fall with its consequences of decay and inevitable death. Everything we touch turns to dust–including these cursed bodies of ours. Because of genetic predispositions and lifestyle choices, we all participate in the suffering that is our lot as people living in the shadow of rebellion against the God of the universe. And sometimes, because we are drawn to our foolishness like a dog to its own vomit (Prov 26:11), we actually hasten death through our choices.

So what does the church do in the face of these consequences of sin? We rightly minister to the victims of these diseases. Over recent decades, the church has grown more open in its acceptance of suffering people and in its willingness to suffer alongside them. We visit them in the hospital, raise money to fight their diseases and pay their bills. We bring them meals, drive them to appointments, and babysit their kids. We pray for them in our services, ask them how they’re feeling, and accommodate them with special foods at our potlucks.

And as we’re busy enthusiastically delivering meals to suffering people, we are largely ignoring the afflictions of 25 percent of our population. That’s about equal to the total percentage of people diagnosed with cancer each year, those living with heart disease, people infected with HIV and AIDS, and those afflicted with diabetes–combined! No wonder several people I talked with called mental illness the “no-casserole illness.” In contrast to the care we provide for others, we have very little patience with those whose diseases happen to attack their minds. So many people suffer in silence.


To read more, see Chapter 2 of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. If you want to learn more about how the church can help people affected by mental illness, you can find the book here.


Taken from Troubled Minds by Amy Simpson. Copyright(c) 2013 by Amy Simpson. Used by permission from InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515. www.ivpress.com.

© 2013 Amy Simpson.