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June 2005

Psychiatric EpidemiologyIt’s Not Just About Counting Anymore

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):590-592. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.590

Over the past 2 decades, the National Institute of Mental Health supported ambitious population-based efforts in psychiatric epidemiology. The landmark 5-site Epidemiological Catchment Area (ECA) study of the 1980s provided the first comprehensive picture of the prevalence of DSM-III mental disorders in the United States.1 A decade later, the National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) was the first study to estimate the prevalence of DSM-III-R mental disorders in a nationally representative US sample.2 These studies established the methods of modern psychiatric epidemiology in the United States, including the use of reliable lay-administered structured diagnostic assessment tools to ascertain standardized diagnostic criteria,3,4 the comparison of clinical interviews with lay interviews to evaluate diagnostic validity,57 and the application of sampling strategies to identify nationally representative samples. Combined with earlier and richly informative international studies in psychiatric epidemiology,810 the ECA, NCS, and related surveys demonstrated that mental disorders were highly prevalent in the general population and placed mental illness squarely on the nation’s and the world’s public health agenda.11

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