Mental Health Awareness

teacher with college students

Mental health is critical for personal well-being at every stage of life. Mental disorders are real, disabling health conditions that have an immense impact on individuals and families in the United States and internationally. Mental disorders vary widely in type and severity. About one in four adults in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals ages 15-44.

Two-thirds of people with diagnosable mental disorders do not seek treatment. Treatment is individualized and may include counseling, psychotherapy, medication therapy, rehabilitation, and attention to other mental and psychosocial problems. Research findings in genetics and neuroscience are providing important new insights and approaches for more effective interventions.

People at risk

Mental disorders occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups. Although the specific causes of most mental disorders are not known, many risk factors have been identified or suggested. These include biological factors (e.g., brain trauma), psychological factors (e.g., stressful events), and sociocultural factors (e.g., poverty). A family history of mental and addictive disorders also can increase risk.

Genetics and family history

Scientists believe that many mental disorders result from the complex interplay of multiple genes with diverse environmental factors. Family studies, often with identical twins who share the same genes, have provided evidence of genetic contributions to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism, and other mental disorders. Even for those with genetic risk, however, environmental factors can play a significant role in whether or not a person develops a disorder, or the severity of an illness.

CDC Activities

CDC’s Office of Public Health Genomics funds the Evaluation of Genomic Applications in Practice and Prevention (EGAPP™) Working Group, an independent, multidisciplinary, non-federal panel that is developing methods for systematic, evidence-based evaluation of genetic tests and genomics applications that are in transition from research to practice.

The EGAPP™ Working Group evaluated evidence and published a recommendation statement on whether testing for specific variations in CYP450 genes in patients with depression is useful to guide clinicians in the selection and dosage of a certain class of anti-depressant drugs, and found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against use. Read the EGAPP recommendation released in December 2007. Read a brief CDC summary about this EGAPP recommendation statement.

CDC has a Mental Health Work Group involving scientists and professionals across the agency. This work group is a scientific work group that coordinates CDC’s mental health activities and strives to advance the field of mental health in support of the agency’s commitment to promote health, prevent disease and injury, and improve quality of life.

CDC also supports genomics-related mental health activities (e.g., communication campaigns on depression and family history) at state health departments.

Other federal agencies

National Institute for Mental Health at the National Institutes of Health and the Center for Mental Health Services within the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are some of the lead federal agencies working to reduce the burden of mental disorders.


General information on mental health and services