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Section 5: Mental disorders and disability: Gender differences

5.3. What is the extent of disability due to mental disorders?

The recent National Health Interview Survey on Disability (NHIS-D), estimates the extent of disability associated with mental disorder, using four different definitions of disability. The first, functional disability, includes any serious symptoms of mental illness that severely interfered with life for the past year (as well as including limitations based on physical, sensory and other impairments). The second, work disability, is defined as a limitation in or inability to work as a result of physical, mental or emotional health conditions. Perceived disability refers to whether people consider themselves to have a disability or are considered by others to have one. Finally, disability program recipient includes anyone covered by Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), special education or related services and/or disability pensions (Adler, 1996; Kennedy, Carlson, Üstün, et al., 1997).

As shown below, the number of people with mental disorders who have a disability varies considerably depending on the disability definition. "Any disability" is an unduplicated count of people in the four other categories; by this measure, more than two-thirds (69.8%) of people with mental disorders have a disability. Using the concept of functional disability, 63.8% of people with mental disorders have a disability, while about one-third of people with mental disorders have a perceived disability (35.8%) or a work limitation (30.0%). Less than 20% of those with mental disorders are disability program recipients (18.3%).

More than two-thirds of people with mental disorders have a disability.

People with mental disorders (23.5 million)

Disability status #in
% of U.S.
% of people with
mental disorders
Any disability 16.4 6.3% 69.8%
Functional disability 15.0 5.8% 63.8%
Work disability 6.1 2.3% 30.0%
Perceived disability 8.4 3.2% 35.8%
Disability program recipient 4.3 1.7% 18.3%

Table 6: Prevalence of disability among those with mental disorders

Sources: Adler (1996); Kennedy, Carlson, üstün, et al. (1997).

Surveys: NHIS-D, 1994-95

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