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The lifetime prevalence of mental disorders: estimation, uses and limitations

  • Morton Kramer (a1), Michael Von Korff (a1) and Larry Kessler (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 09 July 2009

The age-specific lifetime prevalence rate of a disease is the proportion of persons surviving to a given age who have experienced the disease at any time during their lives. This measure of morbidity has been used to report findings in many of the epidemiological surveys of mental disorders of the last 30 years. This paper presents a life-table method for estimating age-specific lifetime prevalence rates from incidence and mortality data. The method is applied to Monroe County, New York, case register data on the incidence of schizophrenia. Using this method, we estimate that at least 3% of the White population surviving to age 55 have experienced an episode of schizophrenia at some time during their lives. The difficulties of producing valid estimates of lifetime prevalence and the difficulties in interpreting differences reported in such rates make this morbidity measure of secondary importance to incidence and point-prevalence data.

Corresponding author
1Address for correspondence: Dr Morton Kramer, Department of Mental Hygiene, Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.
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H. M. Babigian & C. L. Odoroff (1969). The mortality experience of a population with psychiatric illness. American Journal of Psychiatry 126 (4), 470480.

E. A. Gardner , H. C. Miles , H. P. Iker & J. Romano (1963). A cumulative register of psychiatric service in a community. American Journal of Public Health 53, 12691277.

M. Kramer (1957). A discussion of the concepts of incidence and prevalence as related to epidemiologic studies of mental disorders. American Journal of Public Health 47, 826840.

R. J. Simon , J. L. Fleiss & B. J. Gurland (1973). Depression and schizophrenia in hospitalized black and white mental patients. Archives of General Psychiatry 28, 509512.

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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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