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Nationalism and Mental Health

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We dumped tea into a harbor. We printed pamphlets defaming the king. We, a small group of colonies being pulled together by men that openly admitted that they had no clue what they were doing, decided to declare independence from the largest political military superpowers in existence: Britain.

That’s…wow. More power to them. I think it sounds a little crazy. But, crazy or not, definitely incredible. It takes a lot of courage and belief in the individual, in each person’s rights and abilities, to do something like that. Courage and belief that really does deserve to be applauded. However, that doesn’t mean that such a strong, historical precedent of lauding individualism does not have negative effects on our society.

Individualism, as defined by the textbook Government in America: People, Politics, and Policy, is “the belief that all people can and should get ahead on their own.” While many good pieces of American government and society are founded upon this belief, the concept of individualism has also promoted a society without compassion. Perhaps one of the most important and significant reflections of the negative impact of individualism in our society is how Americans view mental health and treat those affected by mental disorders.

Mental disorders are very common, with one in five adults experiencing a mental illness in a given year, and one in five youth ages 13-18 experiencing a severe mental disorder at some point in their lives. Common disorders include OCD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, ADHD, and anxiety disorders. Despite their prevalence, commonality, and the effects of lack of treatment, insurers were not required to cover mental health services until 2008, under the Affordable Care Act and The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act. And during their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Health Care Act, Republicans planned to discard the portion of the ACA that required Medicaid to provide basic mental health services in the states that expanded it.

The lack of mental health care available to Americans reflects the pervasive public sentiment that it is an issue that can and should be handled alone. In 2012 The Washington Post wrote an article that mentioned data from a 2007 study published in the journal Psychiatric Services that found that of 303 people with mental health issues who had considered going to the doctor in the past year but decided against it, “seventy-one percent agreed with the statement ‘I wanted to solve the problem on my own’.” Sound familiar?

While it is important to respect every person’s personal decision about whether or not to go to therapy or receive other care, we also need to create a society that doesn’t shame a decision to be proactive about mental health. This requires letting go of the mentality that it is in general wrong to ask for help and always possible to achieve all of your personal goals on your own. It is this mentality that has encouraged a lack of mental health coverage and care, and it’s about time that we realized that maybe what helped us win the Revolutionary War isn’t going to help us support people struggling with mental health issues.

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Nationalism and Mental Health