What Is Behind The Huge Increase In Mental Illnesses?

Is there a “raging epidemic of mental illness” in the United States? An article last month in The New York Times Review of Books suggests as much. The article cites the explosion of prescription drug sales for mental illness over the past 20 years. In 2008, anti-psychotic drugs became the top selling therapeutic class of drugs. Sales each year now top $14 billion.

Another statistic that suggests a rise in mental illness is the number of disability beneficiaries receiving benefits for these disorders. Between 1987 and 2007, there was a two and a half increase in the number of Americans receiving¬†Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) or Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)¬†benefits for mental illness. It had been one in every 184 Americans suffering from a mental illness. Now it stands at one in every 76, and the number is growing, particularly amongst children. The number of children that doctors have diagnosed as suffering from a mental illness has grown 35 fold over the past 20 years.

Who or what is to blame for the exponential rise in mental illness diagnoses? Did something happen in the country in the past few decades that caused this?  At least some blame the huge increases on the pharmaceutical industry and doctors looking for a quick fix. Prescription drugs like Prozac and Risperdal are top-sellers for pharmaceutical companies. Mental illnesses are typically not the easiest to cure, so doctors, some argue, may be too quick to rely on pharmaceutical company-recommended products. What is the best way to distinguish between true sufferers of mental illness and the many thousands taking mental illness drugs in recent years?

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