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Cerebral Strain: Stress and Mental Illness


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Cerebral Strain: Stress and Mental Illness

It’s fairly obvious to sufferers that stress has physiological symptoms. But apart from shaking hands, quickened breath and dry mouth, stress also affects your brain. Does long-term stress actually predispose you to mental illness? Let’s look at some facts, statistics and recent studies to find out.

Stressed Out


Percentage of U.S. adults who suffer adverse health effects from stress (1)

75% to 90% of all doctor’s visits are related to ailments caused from stress. (1)


Percentage of those feeling stressed who admit to also feeling depressed (2)

Most common stressors (2)

Cause: Percent of stressed Americans affected

Money: 76%

Work: 70%

The economy: 65%

Family: 58%

Relationships: 55%

Personal health concerns: 52%

Mortgage/rent: 52%

Personal safety: 30%

Mental Illness in America

43.7 million

Number of adults in the U.S. who have a mental illness. This is 18.6% of all adults. (3)

Most common disorders (4)

Disorder: Prevalence in adults

Major depressive disorder: 14.8 million

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General anxiety disorder: 6.8 million

Panic disorder: 6 million

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: 2.2 million


Post-traumatic stress disorder is unique in that it shows a direct link between extreme stress and mental health.

7.7 million

Number of American adults who suffer from PTSD (4)


Percentage of people who have experienced extreme stress due to witnessing violence who develop PTSD

PTSD often occurs with other illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders and addiction.

The Missing Link

Multiple studies have shown a significant connection between stress and mental health.

Berkeley Study (5)

When: February 2014

Main findings: Chronic stress creates changes in the brain that create a predisposition for mental illness.

Johns Hopkins Study (6)

When: January 2013

Main findings: Using mice, researchers found that extreme stress in adolescents can change brain chemistry to allow for the onset of mental illness.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Study (3)

When: February 2009

Main findings: Chronic stress may elevate levels of glucocorticoids in the brain. This reduces cell function and may lead to anxiety and depression disorders.

Stress and the Brain

Severe stress can… (5,7,8)

  • … increase connectivity between the hippocampus and the amygdala, which affects a person’s fight or flight response time.
  • … damage stem cells in the hippocampus that can later set the stage for mental disorders.
  • … affect cortisol production in the brain, inhibiting an individual’s ability to cope with more stress.
  • … negatively impact a person’s memory retention.
  • … produce proteins in the brain that may lead to Alzheimer’s disease.