According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, an estimated 23% of Americans age 18 and older – over 50 million people – experience some type of mental disorder during any given year. More than seven million American adults experience a serious mental illness that significantly interferes with daily functioning. Nearly 1 in 5 families in the Omaha area and across the State of Nebraska are touched by major mental illness. And at least one-third and, by some estimates, over 50% of our community’s homeless experience a serious mental illness or co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorder.

Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression are among the top ten leading causes of disability in our country. Sixteen percent of Americans will experience major clinical depression during their lifetimes. It is estimated that one to two percent of the population will have an episode of schizophrenia some time in their life. Bipolar disorder affects between two and three percent of American adults each year.


Mental illness does not discriminate. It can and does affect both genders and people across all income levels, educational levels, geographic regions, and cultural backgrounds. Mental illness is more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. In fact, mental illnesses are the leading cause of disability in North America, Europe and, increasingly, the world. Within our country, there are more suicides each year than there are homicides – approximately 30,000 people take their own life each year in the United States compared to approximately 20,000 deaths due to homicide. In short, major mental illness is a major public health issue causing significant disability and death.

Without treatment, the consequences of mental illness for the individual and our communities are staggering, including unnecessary disability, unemployment, substance abuse, homelessness, inappropriate incarceration, and suicide. The economic cost alone of untreated mental illness is estimated at more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States. Yet, in spite of these facts, for every dollar serious mental illnesses cost our community, state, and country each year both directly and undirectly, less than one-quarter of one cent is spent on the research of these illnesses.

Early diagnosis and quality treatment, rehabilitation, and support services for people with mental illnesses are essential. Cost-effective, proven treatment, rehabilitation, and support services not only assist in recovery for people living with mental illness, but also ensure the health of our communities and families. We urge you to learn more about mental illness, and to support the research and services that are of such vital importance in addressing this major health condition facing families and communities across our nation.

Information was gathered on this topic and additional resources are available from the following sources:

Office of the U.S. Surgeon General

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)