In 2020, an estimated 52.9 million adults aged 18 or older lived with mental illness in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). That is one in five adults living with mental illness. Also, one in five children in the U.S. have experienced a mental illness, and one in 25 Americans live with a severe mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or depression. 

“As we embrace the month of May, mental health is a concerning topic of discussion,” according to Teresa Henson, Extension specialist-program outreach coordinator for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences. “This is excellent because mental illness stigma is slowly but surely coming to the forefront and getting the awareness it deserves.” 

With mental illness, there is no one single root to the problem; there are many risk factors that may contribute to mental illness, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Risk factors include:

  • Chemical imbalances or biological factors in the brain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Experiences dealing with ongoing (chronic) medical conditions such as cancer or diabetes
  • Feelings of isolation or loneliness
  • History of traumatic life experiences (child abuse, violence, or sexual assault)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains that people can experience different types of mental illness or disorders, which can often occur at any time. 

“Mental illness can happen within a short period or in episodes,” Henson said. “This lets you know that mental illness comes and goes and can be ongoing or long-lasting.”

There are several resources available to help friends, family and loved ones who are suffering from mental illness. Sources include: