How many people have unwanted intrusive thoughts?


My best guesstimate is that there are more than 6 million people in the United States alone who—at some point in their lives—suffer from unwanted intrusive thoughts.

I call this a "guesstimate"—which is really an informed estimate—because there are no formal studies that ask people, "Do you have unwanted intrusive thoughts that cause you a great deal of distress?" Since this particular symptom does not indicate any single diagnosis, we have to extrapolate from information that is already known.

It is well known that about one out of ten people will suffer from an anxiety disorder sometime in their life, and we are pretty sure that about 20% of people with anxiety disorders have unwanted intrusive thoughts. When we do the math, we come out with 2% of the 350 million people in the United States. That's about 7 million.

It's a huge number of people, and I think it is shockingly large. And here is one place where both mental health professionals and people who have unwanted intrusive thoughts agree: the number is far higher than most people assume.

It's a silent epidemic. As one example of how many are looking for help, my website page on Intrusive Obsessive Thoughts is read by almost 1,000 people every day. Sadly, the silence, fear and shame surrounding the issue increase the suffering and isolation of many good people. You bear your burdens in isolation, not knowing that there are many others just like you.

Next time we'll look at why the content of your unwanted thoughts are usually so awful.


Martin N. Seif, Ph.D., ABPP