PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island has the highest rate of serious mental illness among adults in the country, according to a new federal survey published yesterday.
The study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that 7.2 percent of Rhode Islanders ages 18 or older experienced a serious mental illness at some point in the past year.
The national rate for serious mental illness is 4.6 percent. Hawaii and South Dakota shared the lowest rate, 3.5 percent.
Serious mental illness is considered one that interferes with at least one major life activity, including working or communicating.
Rhode Island also had the highest rate of adults suffering from any mental illness in the past year, according to the study. The state rate was about 24 percent, compared to just less than 20 percent nationally.
Maryland had the lowest rate, 16.7 percent.
More than 44 million people in the United States have had some kind of mental health problem in the last 12 months.
Vivian Weisman, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, said the numbers do not surprise her.
The state has had a high rate of depression for years, in part because of environmental triggers like high unemployment and low wages, she said.
Weisman also said Rhode Island has traditionally had a high rate of alcoholism, which is linked to depression. Domestic violence or other trauma can also lead to depression.
But Weisman suggested that part of the reason for the high rate could also be more reporting of mental illness, as the stigma is lessened and more primary care doctors are screening for it.
“We have been seeing high incidence for a long time,’’ she said. “And there has been a lot of effort to have mental illness be seen for the chronic illness it is.’’
Only about 38 percent of those with mental health problems received treatment in the past year, said Pamela Hyde, head of the Mental Health Services Administration. She stressed that mental illness is treatable and that people can recover fully.
By Erika Niedowski