More than half of all hospital beds in the United States are occupied by patients with mental disorders. Nine million Americans suffer from serious mental troubles, and the number is on the increase. Estimates of the direct and indirect cost mental illness in this country range from $3 billion to as high as $12 billion a year. Meanwhile, there is a growing shortage of trained psychiatrists—there is not more than one for every 16,500 Americans. Such, in brief, was the disturbing picture which prompted Congress, in 1955, to pass an act authorizing an elaborate study of the nation's mental health.
The most arresting product, to date, of this unprecedented investigation is a 444-page document entitled Americans View Their Mental Health (Basic Books), which presents the findings of a nationwide interview survey conducted by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center. Three social scientists on the staff of the Research Center are the authors of the published report, Doctors Gerald Gurin, Joseph Veroff, and Sheila Feld.
As its title indicates, Americans View Their Mental Health is concerned with self-diagnosis, with people's own estimates of their well-being and their troubles. Such estimates are apt to be colored by defenses and failures of insight, but the authors are right in emphasizing their relevance to the study of mental health, since it is subjective evaluations which decide what the ordinary person does about his emotional difficulties. The sample selected—2460 Americans over twenty-one, living in private dwellings—is intended to be "an accurately proportioned miniature of the 'normal,' stable adult population" (my italics). It excludes, among others, all inmates of prisons and mental hospitals, and therefore does not represent the people who are most violently disturbed. Thus, the survey can be summed up as an attempt to discover how well or how badly adjusted normal Americans consider themselves, to be, and what they do about their difficulties.