Mental Health Around the World

The United States has a high rate of mental illness compared with other industrialized nations, but it also has the lowest rate of treatment, according to a survey in Canada, Chile, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

The rate of mental illness among the American public is 29 percent, according to the study. Chile was at the bottom of the list with 14 percent.

"For western countries, the U.S. rate of mental disorder is quite high," says Ronald Kessler, Ph.D., professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. The research was published this month in Health Affairsand sponsored by World Health Organization (WHO).

Only one-third of seriously mentally ill Americans are receiving treatment, according to the study. "In our country, the people getting treatment are the people with the most money," says Kessler, who is a lead author of the study. In every country but the U.S., he says, need is the main factor in deciding who gets treatment.

But Kessler also notes that the numbers may be somewhat misleading. The U.S. may appear to have a greater incidence of mental illness because Americans are more comfortable discussing it.

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Kessler says future WHO mental health studies will be conducted on a larger scale. The next study, called the World Mental Health Survey, will evaluate 250,000 people in 28 countries. The results will be released late next year.

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