“Lies, Damn Lies, And. . .”: An Assortment of True Health-Related Statistics

Posted on May 26, 2012 by


(image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” ~ Mark Twain

Twain certainly  had a winning way with the English language, and his famous line on lies and statistics has stood the test of time.  I hate to contradict a man of Twain’s stature, but still–sometimes, just sometimes, statistics hold an important element of truth. For example, if I give you a few pieces of data, you can infer some pretty deep ‘facts on the ground’ from them.

Let’s just do two practice cases before I leave you alone with a bunch of fascinating figures.

Let’s say my marriage is in distress. And I know that the divorce rate in America for first marriages as of 2011 is 45-50% (Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, Springfield). Then I come to found out that, according to a systematic meta-analysis, only 44% of couples in marital therapy experience significant improvement over a non-treatment group (Hahlweg & Markman, 1988).  Well. . . then I know I’m in deep weeds. See how useful this effort at interpretation has been?  {You have free permission to take the latter statistic with a grain of salt–I hope to return to this in another post. Perhaps it would be what Mr. Twain would find a “damn lie.”}


Or let’s look at the following stats, provided by the World Health organization, and see what story those numbers tell:

Top 5: Where Depression stands in the overall, world-wide assessment of causes of disability
Around 20%: Percent of the world’s children and adolescents with mental disorders. Similar types of disorders are reported across all cultures. Yet. . .
1 in 4 million: The ratio of child psychiatrists in low and middle-income countries to children who need them.
Less than 25%: Number of people with depression [all ages] who receive proper treatment, mainly due to lack of care in lower-income countries.
0.05  and 0.42 per 100,000 people: Due to shortages, these are the numbers of psychiatrists and nurses, respectively, available in low-income countries.
170: Times greater the rate of psychiatrists per 100,000 in high-income countries, compared to low-income ones.

Well, it doesn’t take a genius to find some truths behind these numbers. I think we can all garner the following: Depression is a serious, debilitating illness effecting children and adults in all cultures. As WHO themselves write–and this is just putting words to figures–”There is huge inequity in the distribution of skilled human resources for mental health across the world. Shortages of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, psychologists and social workers are among the main barriers to providing treatment and care in low- and middle-income countries.”

So where does this get me? Well, I can know to feel tremendous gratitude for being born and raised in a country with better access to mental health care. And I can understand that it’s my human obligation to do something to help change the facts on the ground for the mentally ill in underdeveloped countries. If I want to get my voice heard about the inequity, and find out how I can help, all I need do is write to the “Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO Geneva.” And, lest I worry I’d actually have to put pen to paper, and then stamp to envelope–well, there’s always e-mail. Here are the higher-ups in that Department for the WHO:


Well, that was a lot of interpretation from me–I’ll leave you be after this, promise; and all the fun will be yours.

And perhaps not every statistic you meet below will reveal the secrets of the ages to you–but the numbers are telling nonetheless.

It’s our job to try to puzzle out just what they’re telling us.

“. . .and Statistics”: A Random Collection 

  • 56%: Percentage of US school children with autism taking mood medications (NIMH)
  • 36%: percentage of physicians are not accepting new Medicaid patients, and. . .
  • 26%: physicians that see no Medicaid patients at all (Medscape, May 24)
  • 1,596,670: Number of new cancer cases diagnosed in the US in. 2011
  • 70%: Rate of patients with bipolar disorder who were initially misdiagnosed, according to a study by the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (NDMDA).
  • Over 100: Number of published papers are expected to be retracted, when all is said and done, of those published by Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel
  • 4/5: Fraction of antidepressant prescriptions written by non-psychiatrists
  • $7.2 billion: The amount spent on Lipitor in the U.S. alone in 2010
  • 10/10: Number of top-ten selling drugs in America that were generics in 2010 (IMS Health)
  • 1 in 4: The number of American women who took at least one mental health medication, as of 2011
  • 85 to 95%: Percentage chance of survival after a skin cancer diagnosis
  • 1 out of 3: Estimated number of the homeless population that has untreated psychiatric illnesses
  • Twice: As many women as men are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease each year
  • 71%: Percent of high school drop-outs from fatherless homes as of 2011(Divorceguide.com)
  • #2: The relative importance of the New England Journal of Medicine as assessed by Journal Impact Factor (1995-2005)
  • 18: Average age of onset of schizophrenia in ment. For women it’s 25.
  • 99%: Survival rate at 5 years for prostate cancer, ahead only of. . .
  • 96%: Survival rate for thyroid cancer
  • 1/88: Number of children now effected by autism
  • 1/54: Number of boys now effected by autism
  • 80: Average age of receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease
  • $1.6 billion: Amount states cut in mental health spending from fiscal years 2009-2012 (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill)
  • 26.6% : Percent of scientific paper retracted from 2000-2010 that were retracted for reasons of fraud
  • 10: Number of states that had more deaths from firearms than autos as of 2009 data (American Psychiatric Associations headlines, 5/25)
  • $50,000: Cost per year as of 2010 of Avastin, a cancer treatment (Forbes)
  • 75: Median age at death for lymphoma sufferers, from 2005-2009 (National Cancer Institute)
  • 226,870: Estimated number of women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012
  • 1.3 million: Number of veterans who lack health insurance as of April, 2012 (Urban Institute)
  • 3% of $243.8 billion: Amount states spent to combat smoking of the settlement they received from tobacco companies (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • 127.3 per 100,000 vs 80.6 per 100,000: Rates of breast cancer occurrence for white vs Native American women (National Cancer Institute)
  • 50.7 million: Number of uninsured people in the U.S. as of 2009 (Census Bureau)
  • 12: Number of states with obesity prevalence of 30% or more (Center for Disease Control and Prevention)
  • #1: Illinois’ winning position as state with the most mental health care budget cuts, for budget year 2013
  • More than 10%: Amount by which the Department of Health and Human Services’ funding was reduced by for Fiscal Year 2013
  • 19 + 2 + 1 + 1 (23): Number of people in Illinois I can contact to protest cuts in mental health funding, doctors not accepting Medicaid, and the number of uninsured (19 representatives, 2 senators, 1 governor, 1 mayor). This number will be different for every state [you in Wyoming get off easy, lucky ducks], but it’s a number that matters greatly. I encourage you. . .well, let’s get there by a number. . .
  • $5.8 billion: Fourth quarter, 2011, earnings revenue for Nike, who would say, about contacting your government representatives on the topic of health care–”Just do it!” And you see how rich that slogan made them! Think what it could do for you.

Or maybe this is where Mr. Twain had a point on the shaky veracity of statistics. . .

Then let’s just say I hope you enjoyed the ride–and found good truths (some cancer survival rates) mixed in there with the unpleasant ones.

It’d be easy to shake the numbers off as “Damned lies,” but we’d be ignoring what is a very serious health situation, both in the U.S. and around the world.

So let’s leave off that quote of Twain’s–and give him space for another:

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please.

Do as Twain orders, in the first part, and get your facts. Skim this list twice.

Then–well, they’re yours to distort, repeat, parrot, think deeply about, act upon–”as much as you please.”