Our World in Data: Mental illness

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On a recent flight, two people in the row behind me struck up a conversation. They were strangers to each other, but both were game for having a chat. Their conversation ranged widely. I was working, so I only periodically tuned in. My ears perked up when one person said, “There’s mental health in my family.” Now there’s an interesting euphemism. She’s didn’t say “there’s poor mental health in my family,” or “there’s mental illness in my family,” or “there are mental health challenges in my family.”  The woman’s conversation partner, however, understood exactly what she meant. For other types of health conditions, I bet she doesn’t say “There’s health in my family.”

We may be making progress on reducing the stigma around mental illness, but the phrase “mental illness” is still difficult for some to utter.

Our World in Data has 51 charts depicting data related to mental health.

When study participants were asked “how comfortable a local person would feel speaking about anxiety or depression with someone they kno...,” 56% of Egyptian respondents said very comfortable with another 32% saying somewhat comfortable. In the U.S., a mere 7.2% of respondents said very comfortable with another 58% saying somewhat comfortable. At the bottom of that chart, click “Table” to see the full list of countries with data. Jordan tops the list for the most participants saying very comfortable (60.7%) and Japan brings up the bottom in the category (2.7%).

Given the conversation on the plane, I wonder what the responses would be if participants were asked “how comfortable a local person would feel speaking about anxiety or depression with someone they were unlikely to ever see again.”

Worldwide prevalence for depressive disorders appears to be between 2% and 6%. Worldwide prevalence for anxiety disorders appears to be similar, between 2% and 7%. Schizophrenia, as we’d expect, is much less common at 0.2% to 0.4%.

As part of an in-class or asynchronous discussion, after covering psychological disorders, invite your students to view Our Work in Data’s charts related to mental health. Ask your students to identify from one of those charts the most interesting or most surprising data they found and to provide a brief explanation as to why they chose it. This will give students an opportunity to see how mental illness is perceived and occurs in their own country as well as the rest of the world.  

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.