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Understanding the Ripple Effects of Mental Illness

Mental illness affects hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Mental illness is a condition that can touch anyone’s life, directly or indirectly, regardless of age, gender, nationality, race, income, or religion. In fact, one in five adults in the U.S. will experience some kind of mental illness in their lifetime, while one in 25 U.S. adults will experience a serious mental illness.1 Depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses can impact every aspect of an individual’s life—and the lives of those in their families and communities. To better advocate for clients, professional mental health counselors must develop a big-picture view of mental illness and its ripple effects. Let’s take a closer look at some of those effects.


Increased Risk for Physical Illness

Patients diagnosed with mental illnesses are at increased risk for certain physical ailments. For example, the risk of cardiometabolic disease is doubled in adults with serious mental illness.1 People with chronic mental illness are also at risk of developing a substance abuse disorder and are at greater risk for diabetes, hypertension, and stroke.2 Conversely, those dealing with chronic physical illness are more likely to experience mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Mental health counselors must keep these connections in mind as they work with patients, considering how various circumstances interact to impact the person’s overall condition.

Impact on Caregivers and Family Members

Mental illness can take a toll on patients’ family members and caregivers. It can be emotionally challenging to see the effects of the illness on their loved one. In the case of more severe illness, family members often need to make difficult decisions about the patient’s situation—including housing, medication or therapies, and healthcare coverage. Oftentimes, the added stress of caring for a mentally ill family member can negatively impact the caregiver’s mental health as well.

Effect on Communities

People living with mental illnesses often experience higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, or marginalization by their communities.2 Additionally, around 80% of people receiving public mental health services are unemployed, even though many of them want to work.3 Cities must bear the financial burden of caring for those who are ill, yet many gaps remain in adequate treatment and employment opportunities. Mental health professionals can help cities and communities deal with the challenge of caring for mentally ill populations by researching and introducing innovative programs to provide additional care and opportunities for those who are most vulnerable.

Impact on the World

Countries around the world must deal with the costs of mental illness. In 2010, this cost was estimated to be between $2 trillion and $5 trillion per year in reduced productivity, and it is expected to rise to $6 trillion by 2030.4 While depression and anxiety are more common and often viewed as less severe than other mental illnesses, they are costing the global economy $1 trillion each year in lost productivity.4 Clearly, the world needs public health initiatives that can improve the lives and productivity of those with mental illnesses.

As a mental health professional, you already invest time and energy in the lives of your clients and their families. Pursuing a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling can help you take your career to the next level. As a student in the online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Walden University, you’ll be able to earn your degree while continuing your current role, applying the new concepts and ideas you’re learning along the way.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an online MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,