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The Numbers on Chronic Illness

40 million Americans face limitations in their usual life activities due to chronic illness.

A chronic illness is an illness that lasts one year or more.  75% of all healthcare costs are due to chronic illness, and mental illness is one of the most expensive.

The most common chronic diseases are heart disease, smoking-related conditions, alcohol-related conditions, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and mental illness.

While direct healthcare costs soar, the total cost of chronic disease to the economy in 2007 was $1.3 trillion.  Total economic cost includes lost productivity and the cost of disability and unemployment claims, in addition to medical costs.

As the number of people with chronic illness increases, this total cost is expected to hit $4.2 trillion by 2023.

While 40 million Americans face daily limitations due to chronic illness, another 93 million have been diagnosed with chronic conditions that may, in the future, limit their lives as well unless the diseases are treated and corrected.

Those 133 million people with chronic conditions make-up 40% of the population of the United States.

Sedentary lifestyles, which contribute to high rates of diabetes, obesity and heart disease, fuel this increase in the number of people facing disability due to chronic illness. This dangerous lifestyle results in 81 million Americans having multiple chronic conditions.

Most people with bipolar disorder fall into this category.  78% of us are sedentary.  Co-morbid chronic conditions, most of them lifestyle-based, result in the poor longevity of people with bipolar disorder.

The aging population is also a contributing factor to the incidence of chronic illness.  We’re facing the possibility in the United States of average lifespan actually decreasing.  Never before have our demographics looked so poor.

Chronic illness also cheats many who suffer of their ability to work.  The unemployment rate for people with disabilities due to chronic illness is 9%.  The rate for the non-disabled population is only 3%.

Flexible work schedules and tele-commuting are enabling more people with disabilities and chronic conditions to find jobs.  There’s even a job-hunting site, Chronically Capable, that specializes in placing chronically ill and disabled individuals in competitive, flexible jobs.

This is a tremendous step forward because nothing helps one overcome the challenges of disease like meaningful work.

Healthy lifestyles and productivity may be the best tools we have to reverse the skyrocketing rates of chronic illness.

Chronic illness hits us hardest as we age.  83% of the elderly have a chronic condition, whereas 8% of those under age 17 lead limited lives due to a chronic illness.  Focusing on a healthy lifestyle and maintaining productivity must be paramount as we get older, because 7 of 10 deaths are due to chronic conditions.

Older people with bipolar disorder are doubly challenged to avoid lifestyle-based chronic disease. For many of us, being healthy is a choice.  We must choose to live a life that enables us to best manage our mental health while we keep away from the things that make us physically sick.

Get out, move around, eat well, avoid bad habits, continue to learn and work at something meaningful.

Some disabilities are not lifestyle-based, and we must serve those who suffer from such disabilities well. But too many people suffer from chronic disease brought on by their own behavior.  It is in our power to reduce that number.

Treat yourself well.  Get better.  You’re worth it.



The Numbers on Chronic Illness

George Hofmann

After much of a life spent in and out of hospitals, jobs, and relationships, George has spent the last dozen years living successfully with bipolar disorder 1. He teaches meditation as an adjunct therapy for mental illness, and writes and speaks about the therapies of meditation, movement, and meaningful work. Visit George at or join the Facebook group Practicing Mental Illness

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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2019). The Numbers on Chronic Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2019, from


Last updated: 6 Sep 2019
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