Since the documented beginning of human life, mental health has been stigmatized and is often left misunderstood. To understand mental health, one must understand the term. “The term mental health represents a variety of human aspirations: rehabilitation of the mentally disturbed, prevention of mental disorder, reduction of tension in a stressful world, and attainment of a state of well-being in which the individual functions at a level consistent with his or her mental potential.” (“Mental Hygiene”). Defining what mental health truly is helps us understand the whole aspect of what it includes. The Britannica Encyclopedia also defines mental hygiene: “the science of maintaining mental health and preventing the development of psychosis, neurosis, or other mental disorders.” (“Mental Hygiene”). Clear progression can be seen in how mental health is now thought of and cared for. But unfortunately, there are still many changes to be made within our systems. America has an underlying responsibility to achieve a successful understanding of mental health. More needs to be done within our mental health studies, and all people living with mental illness should have access to beneficial living environments.
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Since the beginning, there has been a sort of fear associated with mental illness. This usually led to condemning those suffering with mental illness as possessed by demons or involved with witchcraft. This reaction caused maltreatment and abuse to those suffering. As far back as the 18th century, there is documented evidence of inhumane treatment. For example: restraining patients to chairs, brain surgeries, and cruel living environments. Families would disassociate with their loved ones, abandoning them to harsh living environments. Dorothea Dix was a schoolteacher from Maine. She discovered that those with mental illness were being kept in the jail/prison systems. She found that these people were kept in awful living environments. They were shackled to the walls, abused, and malnourished. This sparked a fire in Dorothea Dix, who made it her own personal duty to achieve change within the 1840’s. (“The Life of Dorothea Dix”). Although she did create awareness to this awful situation, it seemed to push those with mental illness to more hospital like settings. These places were usually far away from families of the mentally unwell.
A main issue that I have with modern day mental health, is that society still does not know what to do with our Americans who suffer with mental health issues. In the scholarly journal, “Jails: America’s Biggest Mental Health Facilities.” (2018). Catia Sharp tells of a mentally ill man named James Boyd. James grew up abused in foster care and was eventually left homeless on the streets. Sharp tells about how the government failed Boyd by continuing to incarcerate him, instead of having facilities suitable for people with mental illness. She used James as an example to push her opinion on how the government should have care set up for these mentally unwell people. She wants to see places structured for people that need help with mental health, instead of pushing them into our jails and prisons. I cannot agree more with Sharp. It deeply saddens me to think about someone who is alone and mentally suffering, with nowhere to go. In Sharp’s article she goes on to talk about how certain police have stated that they arrest some homeless mentally unwell people to help them. That the police feel as though, at least in jail they will have access to some mental health care. There are limited places for the mentally unwell to be housed and taken care of. Insurance also plays a part in the downfall of our mental health systems. Most health facilities require a patient to have medical insurance to receive much of any care.
Mental hospitals were not as “exposed” as the jails and prison systems. Being somewhat isolated only lead to more types of abuse, malnourishment, neglect, and maltreatment. In the 1960’s there was a shift within the mental health system. Professionals brought in the idea of a social psychological perspective. It was believed that psychiatrists needed to work together to develop more of an understanding. Rather than by themselves, doctors would work alongside one another to diagnose, treat, and care for patients under their care. But, within the 1970s biological psychology and psychopharmacology expanded its grounds. With these fields and practices expanding, individualism became reinstated in caring for mental health. (Smith). These fields of practice tend to focus on the individual, rather than a generalized group. And with the shift of changes, some original practices (like individualism) were restored.
Perhaps if people were required to take the time to learn about mental health, it could be impactful to America. In “Urgent Need for Improved Mental Health Care and a More Collaborative Model of Care” (2017)., the authors provide excellent insight to many statistics of mental illness. They also include information on issues with the mental health crisis. More people need to be aware of this information. Americans should be taught how this affects our country, our people, and our lives. In this same journal article, the authors go on to talk about treatment options within mental health, from psychotherapeutic techniques to electroconvulsive therapy. Although I support the ideas of treatment, when necessary, I respect that these authors included some of the bad affects of treatment options. People who are already suffering with a mental illness/disease, take the risk of these bad effects just to have a sense of relief. A person in enough desperation to try treatments that can make them ill, possibly worsen their symptoms, or even the chance of death. Lake and Turner provided information within their journal article that just proved that there is a dire need for more research and development in mental health.
Stigma associated to mental health can be seen as an overpowering force of negativity. To this day, there is still a lingering mental health stigma that society cannot seem to dissolve. This negative social response has created even more trouble within America. With such a burdening stigma, complications arise. Suicide rates are high, as many do not seek mental health care. Fear of being judged and put down for a mental illness can further the fear of social rejection. The fear of being socially rejected can affect an individual’s coping strategies. Studies conducted with autopsied suicide victims showed 90% were found to have psychiatric disorders. Stigma can cause individuals to hide their illnesses in fear of rejection or mockery. This can lead to feelings of hopelessness and suicidal ideation. (Oexle, et al).
Sadly, our society has not made sure that every human has mental health care. Sixty percent of our youth who suffer with depression, do not receive any mental health treatment. 10.8 percent of Americans suffering with a mental illness are uninsured. (“Mental Health America”). This is a critical situation that needs more attention directed toward it. We need more researchers working on different ways to help those in need. Everyone should have access to mental health care, not just the ones who live in places with easy access. Studies have been conducted to show that socioeconomic status (SES) plays a key role in who seeks treatment, as well as who has clearer access to mental health care. Those who live in a lower SES receive a lower rate of treatment vs. those who live in a higher SES. (Evans-Lacko, S., et al.,). There should be systems set up for all people, from all levels of SES. I would even go as far as to say, I believe that insurance should not play any type of role within our mental health care. Every American should have the right to free mental health care.
The statistics surrounding mental health and mental illnesses are alarming. I would think that in modern day America, society’s outlook on mental health would be better than where it originated. I would also think that society would have an insane number of advancements within treatments and care plans for those who need help in mental health. But sadly, America is still not where it needs to be. More research needs to be implicated in order to further understand mental health. Although I wish the government would get a handle on how to properly care for those suffering, I do not have much faith that this is on the top of their priority lists. Therefore, I wish the basis of society here in America would come together to make these changes happen. If humans can stand together and push for change, the possibilities are endless. And what better way to end the mental health stigma, than to stand by one another in hopes to build better representations of what mental health is. “People need other people.” -To Write Love on her Arms (Nonprofit Movement.)
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Mental hygiene”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Feb. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/science/mental-hygiene. Accessed 18 July 2021
Evans-Lacko, S., et al. “Socio-Economic Variations in the Mental Health Treatment Gap for People with Anxiety, Mood, and Substance use Disorders: Results from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) Surveys.” Psychological Medicine, vol. 48, no. 9, 2018, pp. 1560-1571. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/socio-economic-variations-mental-health-treatment/docview/2052744165/se-2?accountid=40159, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0033291717003336.
Lake, James, and Mason Spain Turner. “Urgent Need for Improved Mental Health Care and a More Collaborative Model of Care.” The Permanente journal vol. 21 (2017): 17-024. doi:10.7812/TPP/17-024
”Mental Health America”, 2021, mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america
Oexle, N et al. “Mental illness stigma, secrecy and suicidal ideation.” Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences vol. 26,1 (2017): 53-60. doi:10.1017/S2045796015001018
Smith, Matthew. “A Fine Balance: Individualism, Society and the Prevention of Mental Illness in the United States, 1945–1968.” Palgrave Communications, vol. 2, no. 1, 2016. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/fine-balance-individualism-society-prevention/docview/2090645181/se-2?accountid=40159, doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1057/palcomms.2016.24.
“VOICE FOR THE MAD: A LIFE OF DOROTHEA DIX.” Kirkus Reviews, no. 8, 1995. ProQuest, https://www.proquest.com/trade-journals/voice-mad/docview/917202915/se-2?accountid=40159.
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