A government survey reports that nearly one in five Americans suffered from mental illness last year. Women, unemployed and young adults were more susceptible. This includes 45 million Americans. A substantial 20% (9 million) recorded substance abuse problems.

Only four out of 10 patients were got mental health help according to the survey.

The survey is a first ever comprehensive study of mental illness led by a public health agency Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) within the Department of Health and Human Services and results have been published in the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings.

Mental illness was found to be highly prevalent with 11 million Americans identified as seriously ill. This accounts for 5% of the 20% who were mentally ill last year. 8.4 million Adults had serious thoughts of suicide, of which 2.2 million people had plans to commit suicide and 1 million actually attempted it. Mental illness was more predominant in women over the age of 18 (24%). Two million youngsters (12 to 17 years of age) were affected by major depressive disorder with a record 36% reporting drug abuse.

Peter Delany, PhD and director of SAMHSA, differentiates mental illness from serious mental illness based on severity of impairment.

However the most striking finding was on people who get assistance in dealing with mental health problems. The wide prevalence of psychiatric problems is due to people not appreciating it as a disorder, getting help with treatment and the stigma factor attributed by the society. The damaging results of this survey is hoped to change people's view on getting help for mental illnesses.

“Many more of us in society have mental health problems [than may have been believed] and we really need to think differently," said Delany.

To help others trying to convince patients to seek mental help, experts suggest using the problem solving method to convince patients of their condition and encourage them to seek help.

"This report should help them feel that this is a much broader problem than people thought. This is information they can use to help advocate for themselves and family members," he said.