The number of Americans who say they are disabled due to mental illness is on the rise, a new study says.

Between 1997 and 2009, the percentage of nonelderly adults reporting disability attributed to depression , anxiety or emotional problems increased from 2 percent to 2.7 percent. This increase is equivalent to nearly 2 million more disabled adults, said study researcher Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The rise in mental health disability was found mainly among individuals with significant psychological distress who did not use mental health services in the past year, Mojtabai said. Over the study period, the percentage of people who said they did not have mental health care for financial reasons increased from 2.0 percent to 3.2 percent.

"These findings highlight the need for improved access to mental health services in our communities and for better integration of these services with primary care delivery," Mojtabai said.

The study involved 312,364 adults ages 18 to 64 years who completed the U.S. National Health Interview Survey.

Participants were asked whether they had difficulty with physical activities, activities of daily life, and participation in social and leisure activities. Responses ranged from "not at all" to "can't do it." Participants were then asked to name the health conditions that caused this disability.

About 66,800 participants reported a disability of some kind.

Survey respondents with mental health disabilities reported a greater level of difficulty in going shopping, to the movies, or to sporting events; participating in social activities; and participating in leisure activities, Mojtabai said. Respondents with other chronic disabilities reported a greater level of difficulty with physical activities.

Socioeconomic changes in recent years, including growing economic inequality, may have contributed to the rise in mental health disability, Mojtabai said.

Pass it on: The prevalence of mental health disability in the U.S. has increased over the last decade.

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