Visualizing the most neglected disease: Mental illness

By Amy VanderZanden, special to Humanosphere

Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability around the world – and has been for at least the last 25 years.

While many communicable diseases have been shrinking in terms of the number of people they affect over the last two decades, the global burden of mental illness has largely remained the same. All forms of mental illness – including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia – account for nearly a quarter of all disability worldwide, and cause the most disability for those in the most productive age demographic, from 15 to 39 years old.

Mental illness is not just a problem in high-income countries. In developing countries, mental and behavioral disorders constitute nearly 22 percent of the total burden of disability in 1990. Little seems to have changed since then: These disorders made up virtually the same proportion of disability in the population in 2010 (just under 23 percent).

Burden of mental and behavioral disorders in 2010, and trends over time

 Notes: Source: Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. To explore the data visualization online, go to

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