Mental illness as a social problem

Mental disorders is rather actual and hot problem of modern society, which affects the lives of many thousands of people. First of all mental illnesses is a barrier to a normal full life for the people, that is primarily due to their high prevalence and high levels of disability cases. It leads to a great social harm to the population due to lack of opportunity to lead a normal social life, to study and work, to communicate. Mental illness can change the person’s attitude towards life, self and society, and society’s attitude to the person. Mental health care and treatment is seen as something negative and dangerous, that can be detrimental to patients dignity and relations with the society.
Mental illness as a social problem

The problem of mental illness is an acute social problem of the modern society, which affects the lives of thousands of people, because according to WHO experts, mental illness are very prevalent throughout the world. It is assumed that they affect about 10-15% of population of the economically advanced countries of Western Europe and North America, 6 – 9% of the population of developed countries in Asia (Japan and Oceania), and 2.5-5% of the population of developing countries. (WHO 2001)

Recent studies by WHO (2001) show that now in the world about 45 million people over the age of 18 suffer from schizophrenia, 11 million people from Alzheimer’s disease, and about 45 million people from epilepsy. Depressive disorders have been reported in every seven adults and 5% of children in the United States, 7% of Brazil’s population, 10% of the population in Germany, 4.2% of the population of Turkey. (WHO 2001)

Mental retardation is seen in 4.6% of young people aged 18 years and younger in developing countries and 0.5-2.5% in developed economies. In total, according to WHO experts, about 400 million people suffer from mental or nervous disorders and psychological experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs. (WHO 2001)

WHO points out that to the development of mental disorders contribute biological, psychological and social factors. Special studies indicate that schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease are associated with genetic disorders, depression – with changes in brain chemistry, mental retardation – with iodine deficiency. (WHO 2001)
Stressful situations, poor education, violence at home and in society lead to an increased risk of mental illness. Extreme poverty, war, displacement may lead to a weighting or mental pathology. (WHO 2001)

The highest level of primary psychiatric morbidity is observed in adolescence, while at this age every individual experiences the action of two strong natural processes: intense socialization and active physiological development of the psyche. In particular, an accute problem of adolescence is the lack of social adaptation, which is manifested primarily in the high frequency of behavior problems – from high-conflict to delinquency. Low levels of the mental health of adolescents leads to such consequences:
Ӣ impairs their quality of life and realization of social opportunities in the future;
Ӣ threatens the future development of more severe psychological and psychosomatic diseases, more severe disorders of social adaptation;
Ӣ leads to high levels of antisocial behavior among youth (the growth of drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, crime, etc.)
According to the WHO World Report (2001) over the last decade the incidence of primary mental disorders have increased by 21%, and it should be noted that these figures do not include patients with alcoholic psychosis, alcoholism, drug addiction, substance abuse. In addition, it does not include patients with mental disorders who are not subject to medical care, consequently, the prevalence of mental disorders, in fact, is much higher. (WHO 2001)
It is necessary to stress that people with mental disorders suffer not only because of the illness itself. Layard argues that society often stigmatizes or condemn people with mental disorders, who in everyday life are deprived of opportunities:
– to be productive members of society, find housing and a normal job;
– to have a dignified social life and social relationships.

Corrigan (2001) argues that prejudices, surrounding mental health problems, aggravate the disease, cause only complications to medical treatment. At the same time, it is necessary to remember that people with mental illnesses can recover and benefit society. Treatment of mental illnesses has often been associated with psychiatric hospitals, where confinement or isolation is regarded as the only form of treatment with a patient. But it is important to remember that the success of treatment is possible only in a healthy and peaceful environment, in which people can lead a normal life, where tolerance is practiced and there is no place for prejudice and violence. Involvement of family and friends in caring for patients with mental disorders, as well as in their rehabilitation, worldwide is recognized as a key factor in successful treatment. (Link et al., 1999)

In conclusion it is necessary to stress that the UN Commission on Human Rights decided that, apart from the fact that health care should be regarded as one of the fundamental rights of a person suffering from mental illness, such people should be protected from potential threats, such as: violation of rights of mentally ill patients, neglect of a patient, humiliation or abuse.




Corrigan, Patrick W.; Edwards, Annette Backs; Green, Amy; Diwan, Sarah Lickey; Penn, David L. (2001). “Prejudice, social distance, and familiarity with mental illness”. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 27(2): pp. 219-225.
Layard R. (September 14, 2005). “Mental illness is now our biggest social problem”.
Link, B. G.; Phelan, J. C.; Bresnahan, M.; Stueve, A.; Pescosolido, B A. (1999). “Public conceptions of mental illness: labels, causes, dangerousness, and social distance”. American Journal of Public Health, 89 (9).
WHO. (2001). “The World Health Report 2001: mental disorders affect one in four people”. Press Release WHO/42.
WHO (2001). “The World Health Report 2001. Mental health: New understanding. New hope”. Geneva, World Health Organization.


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