Mental Illness and Suicide

Mental illness affects both sexes, although many types of mental disorders are more prevalent among women.1 For instance, in 2006, 13.5 percent of women and 8.7 percent of men had experienced serious psychological distress in the past year. Similarly, 8.7 percent of women experienced a major depressive episode, compared to 5.2 percent of men.

Among women, the rate of serious psychological distress and major depressive episodes decreases with age. Serious psychological distress occurs among almost 21.9 percent of women aged 18–25 years, compared to 17.5 percent of women aged 26–34 years and 14.8 percent of women aged 35–49 years. Similarly, approximately 11.5 and 11.6 percent of women aged 18–25 and 26–34 years, respectively, experienced a major depressive episode, but that rate decreased as age increased.

Serious psychological distress and major depressive episodes among women also vary by race and ethnicity. In 2006, American Indian/Alaska Native women were most likely to have experienced both disorders (26.8 and 16.6 percent, respectively). Asian/Pacific Islanders were least likely to have experienced serious psychological distress (9.8 percent) and major depressive episodes (3.6 percent) in the past year.

Although most people who suffer from mental illness do not commit suicide, mental illness is a major risk factor. In 2005, 5.7 per 100,000 women aged 18 and older committed suicide. American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic White women had the highest suicide rates (7.0 and 6.9 per 100,000, respectively). Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women had the lowest suicide rates among all racial and ethnic groups (2.3 and 2.4 per 100,000, respectively; data not shown).2

1 Kessler RC, Berglund PA, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry 2003 Jun;62(6):593-602.
2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQAR™). Injury Mortality Report [online]. (2005). Available from URL:, accessed 02/05/08.

Back to Top