Mental Illnesses Essay Example

Physical health is something that is very important to Americans. In 2010, Michelle Obama started a campaign called “Let’s Move!” to promote an active lifestyle among children. The demand for healthy food has been increasing in America. Medical research is resulting in better treatments for a variety of illnesses, such as cancer and diabetes. Yet, one aspect of health that is often overlooked is mental health. Arguably, one uses their brain just as much, if not more, than the rest of their body. However, mental health is a very taboo topic in society. Therefore, many people do not know how to take care of their mental health or recognize signs of mental illness. Mental health affects everyone and needs to be an issue of greater importance in society.

Mental illness is rampant in America. One in four Americans are afflicted by a mental illness (Casados). Yet, our nation does not place the same importance on mental health that we do on physical health. There is glaring evidence of this in policies regarding insurance coverage for mental health. Employers can choose to limit mental health coverage for their businesses, and therefore, they may hamper an individual’s ability to receive adequate care (Henshaw 179). However, mental health is incredibly important to maintain in order to live a decent life. Three in five of those who suffer from a mental illness have difficulty in their everyday lives due to their symptoms (Casados). When unregulated, these symptoms may prevent those with mental illness from performing properly in the workplace. The U.S. government and businesses pay a cost of

$100 billion a year due to a lack of productivity and unemployment caused by untreated mental health (Henshaw 179). Placing more importance on mental health in American society would benefit the nation not only in terms of health, but in terms of economics as well.

Throughout history, the United States has dealt with mental illness in unfavorable ways. Rather than treating mental illness, those suffering have often been incapacitated through the use of mental institutions. Mental institutions served as a way to keep those who differed from the norm out of society. Patients were often abused and isolated, as they were seen as less than. They may have been subjected to ineffective and inhumane treatments, such as electroshock therapy or lobotomies. In 1927, the means of controlling the mentally ill reached a new level. In the case of Buck v. Bell, “the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a sterilization order for a woman with alleged mental retardation”. This ruling enabled state institutions to legally sterilize patients (Henshaw 76-78). This promoted a eugenic idea that the mentally ill are inferior and must be removed from society.

While state institutions have been majorly reformed, the incapacitation of the mentally ill has continued in many other ways. When untreated, those suffering from mental illness may turn to crime. This is particularly evident among mentally ill youth. Studies have shown that “students with poor emotional awareness and weak emotion regulation are more likely to use drugs” (Macklem 103). This introduction to illegal activity may affect the rest of their lives. Adolescents who are not treated for mental illnesses after arrest are more likely to be rearrested than those treated. It is important to acknowledge that many of those in the criminal justice system are mentally ill and need treatment. The New Freedom Commission on Mental Health has stated that “many nonviolent offenders with mental illnesses could be diverted to more appropriate and typically less expensive supervised care” (Cuellar et al. 198-199). Society has

often labeled the mentally ill as violent and untreatable, and therefore it seems reasonable to some that so many are incarcerated (Casados). Yet, the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project has hypothesized that if those with mental illnesses were treated properly, they would be less likely to face criminal charges (Cuellar et al. 199). When untreated, mental illness can lead to risky behaviors that may lead to a lifetime in and out of the criminal justice system, which could be easily avoided through education and treatment.

It is incredibly important to educate society on the importance of mental health. Over half of young adults in the U.S. have experienced some kind of mental illness, yet only 20% of those have received any kind of treatment (Paves and Pederson). Educating the public on mental health can improve the likelihood that those suffering will seek help. Those affected may not seek help because they are unaware of their options, financially unable, or unwilling due to personal beliefs or the attitudes of others (Paves and Pederson). Greater education of the public on the importance of mental health and seeking treatment could be of great help not only to those afflicted, but to the general public as well.

Additionally, it is important to ensure that children are mentally healthy. Children with certain illnesses, such as anxiety or depression, may “internalize their emotions and withdraw”, and therefore it is less obvious when something is wrong. Contrastingly, bipolar disorder is easily detected early on if children are examined (Macklem 104). Yet, both situations prove that it is important to monitor the mental health of children in order to address symptoms as early as possible. Likewise, offering mental health services for children can help them developmentally by teaching them skills such as emotional regulation. Children with good emotional regulation will also have strong social and cognitive skills. When children have difficulty controlling their emotions, they may begin to exhibit behavior problems, which, as aforementioned, may

eventually lead to crime. Similarly, children who often feel negative may have trouble forming or maintaining friendships (Macklem 103-106). Introducing mental health services at an early age can support general health as well as helping to identify issues early on to prevent any potential problems that could arise.

One potential barrier to better awareness of mental health is stigma. This fear of being judged can be a major stressor and prevent individuals from getting help (Seeman). Those with mental illnesses are very aware of stereotypes and may internalize these attitudes and accept them as reality. This can lead to low confidence levels and can make symptoms worse (Casados). The stigma and stereotypes regarding mental illness are ingrained in society. Many have tried to educate the public on the reality of mental illness. However, in one study conducted in Australia, it was found that education had little impact on stigma (Casados). Comparably, in an online survey measuring stigma, it was found that answers regarding attitudes towards mental illness were consistent, despite the fact that the survey was totally anonymous (Seeman). These instances suggest that society is generally reluctant to change its attitudes towards mental illness.

While many report stigma as a reason that they do not seek treatment, it is unclear if this stigma is even real. In the survey conducted by Neil Seeman, the results concluded that “only 7% of respondents thought that people with mental illnesses were more violent than the general population”. In a similar study conducted on college campuses, it was found that while 65% of those surveyed believed that the general public would judge an individual for seeking mental health treatment, 85% of those surveyed said that they would not think poorly of someone receiving treatment (Paves and Pederson). Generally, in the results of these studies, it is evident that the majority of those surveyed do not have negative views of the mentally ill, yet they believe that everyone else does. This poses the question: is the stigma surrounding mental illness

merely perceived? Paves and Pederman’s research makes it seem as though this is the case. However, regardless of whether stigma is real or perceived, it is still one of the main factors preventing individuals from seeking treatment and therefore is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

There are many different approaches to fighting societal stigma. One is education, and while this method seems promising, it has not always had successful results in the past (Casados). Yet, it could still be useful in some ways. For instance, teaching teenagers about mental health could potentially normalize seeking treatment and taking care of oneself. Additionally, as previously discussed, mental health services in schools can promote healthy emotional competence and coping skills among children (Macklem). Another means of increasing acceptance is contact. People may feel more comfortable regarding mental illness and mental health issues if they have contact with someone who is affected. This may help them understand the reality of these issues, rather than continuing to believe in stereotypes and generalizations. This method is definitely an easy one, considering the prevalence of those with mental illness. It is estimated that “most Americans will have contact with a person with mental illness nearly every time they leave home” (Casados). However, oftentimes people do not realize that those around them are affected by mental illness, as their symptoms may not be visible. One important approach to improving attitudes towards mental health is legislation. Legislation can focus on civil rights issues regarding mental health, such as insurance coverage and funding and improvement of mental institutions (Henshaw 177-178). An effective way to improve awareness and acceptance of mental health issues is a combination of these methods in order to approach different aspects of societal beliefs.

The attitudes of society towards mental health can be improved upon in many ways. America needs to treat mental health equally to physical health by doing things such as passing legislation increasing mental health coverage for mental illness. The high prevalence of the mentally ill in the criminal justice system needs to be addressed and reformed through more rehabilitation and treatment for inmates. Society needs to be educated on the importance of the maintenance of mental health and illness needs to be destigmatized. If American society can become more accepting of mental health issues, our nation would be a much healthier and happier one.


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