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Mental illness is far from rare. In fact, a new study shows that around 80 per cent of us may develop a mental health condition during the course of our lives.
Megan Blandford

11 Aug 2017 - 12:20 PM  UPDATED 11 Aug 2017 - 3:18 PM

For a long time, we've known that mental health challenges are likely to hit many of us throughout the course of our lives.  

But now new research shows that almost all of us will have a mental illness at some point in our lifetime. 

A New Zealand-based study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, demonstrated how common mental illness is by examining the mental health of over 1,000 participants aged 11 to 38 over a time span of 40 years. 

The researchers checked in on the participant's mental health every few years during the course of the study. They found the majority of the group experienced a mental illness over the 40 years the research was conducted.

The results also showed that only 17 per cent of participants did not develop a mental health disorder by their late 30s. 

That's equal to around one-in-six people in mental illness in the group who did not have a mental illness by the time they reached their late 30s. The other five out of the six did. 

The researchers then concluded that around 80 per cent of people are likely to experience a mental illness in their lifetime. 
The study's authors comment that the results were also very similar to those conducted in the U.S.  

“Experiencing a diagnosable mental disorder at some point during the life course is the norm, not the exception,” say the study's authors.

Around 80 per cent of people are likely to experience a mental illness in their lifetime

Are you surprised?

Although this statistic is shocking, the fact that it’s far higher than previously thought is surely of no real surprise.

In Australia, beyondblue estimates that up to 45 per cent of us will experience a mental health condition at some stage.

That in itself is a big number, causing major impacts to individuals and communities. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, lists some of those global impacts of the high number of us who experience mental health issues as being increased rates of disability, decreased mortality, potential substance abuse, and poverty. 

Previous statistics focus on those who are diagnosed with a mental health condition. Yet, we know that not everybody seeks or has access to a diagnosis.

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Almost all of us will have a mental illness, including me

As someone who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I can see where the gap in figures might come about.

In my own little corner of the world, every time I speak of, or write about my experience, people come out of the woodwork to comment on their own mental health. So many relate to the mental health challenges that the diagnosed few go through. I've found that those who reply to me detailing their own experiences — either current or past — say they've rarely sought a diagnosis or treatment.

In my case, I suspected I was suffering from depression for a long time before admitting to needing help. It took the best part of a decade for me to seek a formal diagnosis, and finally become a registered number within the system.

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And this is mirrored on a global scale: WHO reports that between 76 and 85 per cent of people with severe mental disorders receive no treatment (in middle-income countries; in high-income countries, this is 35 to 50 per cent). Often, this is due to a lack of resources, financial barriers and difficulties in overcoming the stigma related to mental illness.

There is some good news, though, for those of us who will experience a mental health condition (phew).

For the vast majority of us who experience mental health conditions, it's comforting to know we're far from alone.

If you are in need of support or this story has raised issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. 

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