Lesson 6 of 7  - learn to parent effectively

Mental Illness often
Begins in Childhood

Half of all cases start by
age 14, researchers say

the Associated Press on
 MSNBC Web News, 6/6/05


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/gwc/news/MI_by_14.htm

Updated 04/24/2015

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      This recent research finding seems to support several main premises in this nonprofit Web site.

      From my 36 years' practice as a family therapist, this brief YouTube video offers perspective on "mental illness."

      I offer perspective on this report at the end. - Peter Gerlach, MSW

CHICAGO - Most mental illness hits early in life, with half of all cases starting by age 14, a survey of nearly 10,000 U.S. adults found.

Many cases begin with mild, easy-to-dismiss symptoms such as low-level anxiousness or persistent shyness, but left untreated, they can quickly escalate into severe depression, disabling phobias or clinical anxiety, said Ronald Kessler, a Harvard Medical School researcher involved in the study.

That so many cases begin in people so young -  three-fourths start by age 24 - “is just staggering,” and underscores the need for better efforts at early detection and treatment, Kessler said.

“These disorders have really become the chronic disorders of young people in America,” said Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, which helped fund the research.

The findings, published in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, were based on face-to-face interviews conducted with people ages 18 and older in 2001 through 2003.

The new figures also show that the prevalence of mental illness nationwide has stabilized for the first time since the end of World War II, Kessler said.

About 46 percent of people surveyed said they had experienced a mental illness at some point in their lives, and about 26 percent said they had within the previous year - rates similar to those reported in a 1994 version of the survey. Before the earlier survey, rates had steadily increased since the mid-1940s, Kessler said.

The previous increase was probably at least partly due to better detection and awareness, Kessler said.

The overall prevalence rate is probably an underestimate because the study included only English-speaking adults and excluded rarer illnesses such as schizophrenia and autism.

Most ailments were mild. Only about one-fifth of those who reported any mental disorder within the past year had a serious illness, meaning their daily activities were severely affected.

© 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


        Note that...

  • This article doesn't define "mental illness," so its conclusions are open to interpretation;

  • Apparently the findings are based on self-reports, which are likely to be distorted - probably in favor of underreporting the frequency and personal and family impacts of psychological disturbances.

  • The report sidesteps the nature-nurture controversy over the possible causes of "mental illness." It describes the scope of the problem (national mental illness), but stops short of diagnosing what causes it or proposing how to lower it. The researchers vaguely promote "early detection and treatment," rather than prevention.

  • The language of the report reinforces the outdated psychoanalytic "medical model" of mental illness, which implies that psychological disturbances are a personal "sickness" rather than a psychological condition and a major symptom of family dysfunction. Most people resist feeling "I'm sick" or "I have a disease," which inhibits accurate self-awareness, discovery, and wholistic psycho-spiritual recovery.

      This research summary indirectly supports several Break-the-Cycle premises:

  • "mental illness" is a symptom of psychological wounds from early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma). Wounds is a  more accurate and less negative term than illness.

  • these wounds are unintentionally passed on to typical kids in their first 5-6 years by adult abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma)

  • If a child's family dysfunction isn't corrected, their mix of wounds and unawareness causes a wide range of personal and social problems in their adolescence and adulthood.

  • Most individual psychological problems merit family therapy, vs. medication and individual treatment. and...

  • a high percentage of typical mental health and media professionals are unaware of or discount these premises, causing ineffective or harmful advice. 

      Opinion: our global "mental illness" problem is (a) public acceptance of irresponsible child conception and ineffective parenting; + (b) public and law-makers' ignorance of the pervasive, lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle. and how to stop it.

        Lesson 1 in this nonprofit Web site and its related guidebook focus on (a) assessing "mental illness" (psychological wounds), (b) intentionally reducing it over time, and (c) protecting vulnerable young kids from it.

      For three practical options you can tailor to break the expending, lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle in your family, region, and nation, see this

        Also see these related research summaries

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