Which age groups are most at risk from mental illness?


As a society, we’re starting to develop a much better understanding of mental illness. This means that we can take better care of each other. Most diagnoses happen because the affected person or one of their friends or family members has noticed that something is wrong, so knowing what to look out for can be very helpful. It’s important to realize that there is no age at which people are immune, but providing the right kind of support to people in different age groups can reduce the risk of serious problems developing.


Although it was once widely thought that children didn’t experience mental illnesses, we now know that they are particularly susceptible to trauma-related conditions such as PTSD. Impulse control disorders and phobias are also highly likely to originate in childhood. Teachers are often more likely to realize that something is wrong than new parents who are still finding their feet. Getting the right treatment at an early age can prevent the development of lifelong problems.

Young people

The teenage years and early adulthood bring a lot of changes, and we shouldn’t be surprised that this knocks some people off balance. Psychotic disorders often emerge at this age and can frighten parents, but treatment is available in most cases and behavioral management techniques can help almost anyone. The best online doctors will be able to provide detailed advice on the best approach if you suspect that your child has a problem.

Eating disorders are also common at this age. They can develop for a variety of reasons, and trying to treat them without proper guidance risks making them worse. The important thing is to avoid panic and find a specialist who can engage effectively with your child.

Overall, half of all mental illnesses take root before the age of 24.

The prime of life

Because physical health tends to be at its best at this stage of life, the overall risk of mental illness is lower, but it’s important to keep some specific risks in mind. Schizophrenia is most likely to develop during this period. It’s vanishingly rare in people under 12 and highly unlikely to appear for the first time in people over 40. Men are most at risk in their early 20s and women in their late 20s. Because there’s a strong inherited element to this illness, people with family histories should ideally be monitored for symptoms at these ages. Many people live happy and productive lives with schizophrenia, but this is much easier if it’s treated early on, avoiding associated trauma.

The other big risk for people in this age group is from anxiety disorders. Although they can develop slowly, these tend to be among the easier conditions to spot, and they’re very susceptible to treatment.

Middle age

From the mid-40s to the mid-60s, new mental illnesses are less likely to develop, but there is an increased risk of acute anxiety and suicidal ideation. This can occur as a result of pre-established illness (especially if it has gone untreated) or as an impulsive response to circumstances such as family breakdown or loss of employment. If you or someone you know are embarrassed about seeking treatment for new mental illness, let go of the stigma and seek out ways that you feel comfortable getting help – like in person therapy or online therapy. Urgent intervention is needed if a person starts to think or talk a lot about suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached on 1-800-273-8255 and provides confidential support.

Older people

The vast majority of mental illnesses develop before the age of 75. The risk of developing depression, however, goes up with age, and existing depression is also likely to worsen over time. Experts stress that this may be purely circumstantial and we shouldn’t see it as an inevitable part of the aging process. 80% of people experience improvement when given the right treatment and support. The risk of developing problems also drops considerably when social problems such as isolation are tackled.

Some mental illnesses can strike at any age because they depend more on circumstance than on biological or even lifestyle factors. By understanding when we’re most vulnerable, however, we can reduce the risk of symptoms being missed or not taken seriously enough. It’s also important to be aware that some types of illness, such as schizophrenia, are incurable (though not untreatable), while others, such as anxiety and depression, may recur throughout the life course. Most of the time, however, mental illness can be effectively tackled so that acute episodes are over quickly and the risk of ongoing problems is substantially reduced. The most important thing is to be ready to reach out for help.