In a profile article published in the Cyprus Mail newspaper (Nov. 2012), Dr John Stein, Emeritus Professor of Physiology & Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, claimed:

“a quarter of people in Western societies will get some mental disorder at some point during their life”.

This number sounds exaggerated.

Which are the facts?

  • 3
    Considering that things like BDSM are considered to be disorders under DSM IV (and many other things), it depends entirely on one's definition of "disorder" and not at all a surprising claim
    – user5341
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 20:17
  • Given the article got his job title wrong (Physiology, not Neuroscience), missed the fact that he no longer holds that role, and relies on obnoxious stereotypes - all in the opening paragraph - I wouldn't be shocked if the quote in the article wasn't even an accurate transcription.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Nov 30, 2012 at 22:42
  • Do you consider dementia a mental disorder? In that case, those numbers are way too low. Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


While it likely depends on definitions of mental disorder and the diagnostic procedure (especially on the eve of a new edition of the DSM), this number is not too high. It is too low.

In this study 7076 Dutch adults were interviewed and given a psychiatric assessment.

Some 41.2% of the adult population under 65 had experienced at least one DSM-III-R disorder in their lifetime, among them 23.3% within the preceding year.

Note that this doesn't even include the second part of their lives after the interview. So the lifetime risk is likely to be considerably higher than 41.2%

In Table 1, they break it down to show major contributors include Major Depression (15.4%), Alcohol Abuse (11.7%) and Simple Phobias (10.1%).

Attempts to measure the incidence of mental disorders in a Swedish population, based on 24,000 person years observed. The estimated cumulated risk of developing a mental illness for men is 43%; for women, 73%.

Given these studies, the estimate of 25% lifetime incidence of mental disorders is low.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .