By Colin Allen, published on May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
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
"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
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.
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.