How Common Are Common Mental Disorders? Evidence That Lifetime Prevalence Rates Are Doubled by Prospective Versus Retrospective Ascertainment

Psychol Med. 2010 Jun;40(6):899-909. doi: 10.1017/S0033291709991036. Epub 2009 Sep 1.

Abstract

Background: Most information about the lifetime prevalence of mental disorders comes from retrospective surveys, but how much these surveys have undercounted due to recall failure is unknown. We compared results from a prospective study with those from retrospective studies.

Method: The representative 1972-1973 Dunedin New Zealand birth cohort (n=1037) was followed to age 32 years with 96% retention, and compared to the national New Zealand Mental Health Survey (NZMHS) and two US National Comorbidity Surveys (NCS and NCS-R). Measures were research diagnoses of anxiety, depression, alcohol dependence and cannabis dependence from ages 18 to 32 years.

Results: The prevalence of lifetime disorder to age 32 was approximately doubled in prospective as compared to retrospective data for all four disorder types. Moreover, across disorders, prospective measurement yielded a mean past-year-to-lifetime ratio of 38% whereas retrospective measurement yielded higher mean past-year-to-lifetime ratios of 57% (NZMHS, NCS-R) and 65% (NCS).

Conclusions: Prospective longitudinal studies complement retrospective surveys by providing unique information about lifetime prevalence. The experience of at least one episode of DSM-defined disorder during a lifetime may be far more common in the population than previously thought. Research should ask what this means for etiological theory, construct validity of the DSM approach, public perception of stigma, estimates of the burden of disease and public health policy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Bias
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / diagnosis
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology
  • Marijuana Abuse / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • New Zealand
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Panic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Panic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Panic Disorder / psychology
  • Phobic Disorders / diagnosis
  • Phobic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Phobic Disorders / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Young Adult