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Mental health crisis: Half of the world’s population will be affected by age 75

A recent study has unearthed staggering statistics which suggest that by the age of 75, half of the global population could be grappling with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

In a comprehensive analysis that spanned two decades, researchers from Harvard Medical School and the University of Queensland in Australia analyzed data from World Health Organization surveys. 

The data was collected through face-to-face interviews conducted with an overwhelming 156,331 participants, representing 29 diverse nations spanning from the US to Saudi Arabia, Japan, Israel, several European countries, and parts of South America and Africa.

Alarming reality

The findings, which are published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, present an alarming reality: the projection that by the age of 75, one in two individuals could be battling at least one mental health disorder. This is a significant upsurge from the 2019 estimate, which placed the ratio at one in every eight.

Dr. John McGrath, the study’s lead author and a noted mental health researcher from the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute, remarked: “The most common were mood disorders such as major depression or anxiety. We also found the risk of certain mental disorders differed by sex.”

Gender differences 

The gender differences in mental health vulnerabilities were clearly evident. Women were considerably more likely than men to report diagnosed anxiety disorders during their lifetimes – 19 percent for women versus 11 percent for men. 

The overall likelihood of men developing a mental illness in their lifetime stood at 46 percent, with women having a slightly elevated risk at 53 percent. However, specific disorders like major depressive disorder and specific phobias exhibited similar prevalence across genders.

When men were interviewed, 14 percent reported risky alcohol use and abuse, followed by 7.5 percent admitting to major depressive disorders and 5 percent confessing to specific phobias. By contrast, women predominantly reported major depressive disorders at 13.6 percent and were also twice as likely to suffer from specific phobias.

A global challenge 

The data underscores a concerning rise in mental illness rates in the US, emphasizing that this crisis is not limited to American borders but is a global challenge. 

Over recent years, the number of suicides in the US has surged from 45,900 to over 48,000, highlighting the gravity of the situation.

Early intervention is needed

One critical revelation of the study is the age at which these disorders commonly emerge. 

On average, individuals first manifest symptoms around the age of 15. This finding accentuates the urgency for early intervention. 

The researchers suggest that greater financial and social investments are critical for detecting and treating mental health issues at their onset. This could exponentially increase an affected individuals’ chances of a prolonged life.

“Services need to be able to detect and treat common mental disorders promptly, and be optimized to suit patients in these critical parts of their lives,” said Harvard University healthcare policy specialist, Dr. Ronald Kessler.

“By understanding the age at which these disorders commonly arise, we can tailor public health interventions and allocate resources to ensure that appropriate and timely support is available to individuals at risk.”

Study implications


The strain on America’s mental health infrastructure has been evident, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, which escalated the pre-existing crisis. 

The pandemic-induced lockdowns, combined with isolation, lack of preventive mental health care, and the overarching underfunding of the mental healthcare system, have left a vast portion of the population vulnerable – especially the youth. 

A concerning report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disclosed that in 2021, 10.2 percent of US high school students admitted to attempting suicide within the past year. This was a dramatic increase from approximately eight percent in 2019.

More about mental health

Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social welfare. It influences how we think, feel, and act, affecting our ability to cope with stress, relate to others, and make choices. 

Prevalence of mental disorders

The prevalence of mental disorders is on the rise. As highlighted in the previously mentioned study, the risk of developing a mental illness by age 75 is as high as 50 percent. But this is not just an issue for the elderly; mental health concerns often begin in adolescence and continue to affect people throughout their lives.

Types of mental health disorders

Mental health disorders can vary widely, ranging from common conditions like anxiety and depression to more severe illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most widespread, affecting almost one-fifth of the adult population at some point in their lives.

Impact on daily life

Mental health conditions can be debilitating, impacting every aspect of daily life. Simple tasks may become overwhelming, relationships strained, and maintaining employment can be challenging. Moreover, mental health often influences physical health, leading to an increased risk of certain chronic conditions.

Treatment and support

Though the statistics may appear grim, mental health conditions are often treatable. Therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, and support from loved ones can make a substantial difference. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, as they often lead to better outcomes.

Barriers to care

Unfortunately, stigma, lack of awareness, and limited access to mental health services often create barriers to care. Many people suffer in silence, unable to seek the help they need. The disparity in mental health services across countries and within communities can exacerbate these challenges.

The COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer to the mental health crisis, leading to an increase in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. The isolation, uncertainty, and health concerns related to the pandemic have taken a toll on people worldwide.

Moving forward

As we advance in understanding mental health, it is vital to prioritize prevention, early intervention, and treatment. Governments, healthcare providers, and communities must work together to provide comprehensive mental health services and reduce the associated stigma.

Emphasizing mental health in schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings can foster a supportive environment where people feel comfortable seeking help. Increased funding and policy changes are also necessary to ensure that everyone, regardless of location or economic status, can access the mental health care they need.


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