Blog | dual diagnosis

Mental Illness a Growing Problem in US: Therapy Helps

In 2013, mental illness was a serious issue for as much as 20 percent of the adult population in the United States, according to a report from the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). That’s one in five people over the age of 18 or 43.8 million Americans who were living with a diagnosable mental health disorder, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The report also found that:

  • 15.7 million Americans were diagnosed with major depression
  • 10 million Americans were living with a serious mental illness
  • 9.3 million people seriously considered suicide
  • 2.7 million Americans made a suicide plan
  • 1.3 million Americans attempted to take their own lives

Unfortunately, this is not much of a change from a similar survey conducted in 2012. The need for treatment for mental health issues, especially depression and suicidal thoughts is ongoing. The good news is that treatment can help to improve the quality of life of patients living with a mental health disorder. In some cases, it can save lives.

Talk Therapy

risk factorsOne study found that talk therapy specifically was effective in helping patients who had attempted to take their own lives. Multiple sessions were shown to be effective in limiting repeat attempts of suicide and lives lost, according to a Danish study. This study included more than 5,600 participants who took part in six and 10 talk therapy sessions after attempting suicide and an additional 17,000 people who attempted suicide but received no treatment afterward.

One year after their suicide attempt, those who had undergone talk therapy were 27 percent less likely to try to take their own lives again. Additionally, talk therapy patients were found to be 38 percent less likely to die of any cause as compared to those who did not undergo treatment. These results stood strong at the five-year mark as well – there were 26 percent fewer suicides among those who had attended talk therapy sessions as compared to the non-treatment group. At the 10-year mark, the suicide rate among the talk therapy participants was 229 per 100,000 as compared to 314 per 100,000 among the non-treatment group.

Annette Erlangsen is an adjunct associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the department of mental health. She was also a leader on the study, published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry. She said: “We know that people who have attempted suicide are a high-risk population and that we need to help them. However, we did not know what would be effective in terms of treatment. Now we have evidence that psychosocial treatment – which provides support, not medication – is able to prevent suicide in a group at high risk of dying by suicide.”

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Disorders

It’s not uncommon for patients who are living with mental health symptoms or the issues caused by a mental health disorder to attempt to self-medicate those symptoms by drinking or getting high. If depression is the problem, for example, many may attempt to heal those feelings or numb them by drinking, taking prescription painkillers or sedatives, or using drugs like heroin. Unfortunately, this is not an effective way to manage these symptoms and patients end up struggling with the dual disorders of the original mental health issue as well as substance abuse or addiction. Patients often find that:

  • Old mental health symptoms are worsened by drug use.
  • New mental health symptoms develop due to chronic substance abuse.
  • Depressive episodes increase and intensify due to drug and alcohol use.
  • Addiction becomes their focus, and they are unable to function in other areas of life.

Dual diagnosis rehab is recommended in all cases where mental health disorders and substance abuse coincide.


Pamela Hyde is a SAMHSA administrator. In a news release, she said: “It is a serious issue that millions of Americans are needlessly affected by mental illness when they can get effective treatment to restore their well-being. Now more than ever, people can get the help they need to recover from mental disorders and live full, active lives – they just need to take the first step and seek help.”

Some are. An estimated 34.6 million Americans over the age of 18 sought and received mental health care at an inpatient facility or on an outpatient basis. This number was similar to 2012 and up from 2002-2011, which demonstrates that Americans are starting to recognize the benefits of mental health treatment.

If substance abuse is also a problem, patients should seek treatment that addresses both issues at the same time. Dual diagnosis rehab can be a crucial piece in not only safely and effectively stopping the use of all illicit substances but also in learning the coping skills necessary to remain clean and sober for the long term. If a mental health disorder is part of the issue, learning how to manage those symptoms without drug use is key. Additionally, if suicidal thoughts or behaviors are among the mental health symptoms experienced, then suicide prevention efforts should also be a part of treatment.

Dual diagnosis rehab should include:

  • Detox assistance, if necessary
  • Psychiatric treatment for mental health symptoms, if necessary
  • Medication and monitoring, for detox assistance and/or psychiatric stabilization, if necessary
  • One-on-one therapeutic intervention
  • Group therapy sessions
  • A combination of alternative, holistic and traditional therapies that address the patient’s personal obstacles to recovery
  • Aftercare and support

The more intense the treatment, the more likely it is that the patient will not only safely navigate their way from addiction to recovery but also that they will be able to create a new life for themselves defined by balance and stability.