Increasing Rates of Poor Mental Health in the American Population

We see many news outlets discussing political concerns, economic downfalls, and all the inside details of celebrities’ lives. Yet for issues as predominant declining mental health, no one seems to be talking. Behind the spectacle our entertainment industry puts on- when we are stripped of the filters we hide behind- we are a broken society that needs to be fixed. According to MHA’s 2019 report, 9.8 million adults have experienced suicidal thoughts this year. Over 200,000 youths have been diagnosed with severe depression, and approximately 65% of our overall population have some form of anxiety. We are sadder, more anxious, and more stressed than we have ever been. On one hand, it seems counterintuitive given that consumer confidence in the American economy has been relatively high. Social activism has been wildly successful in recent years too, as shown through the passing of same-sex marriage, rape survivor awareness campaigns, and the black power movement. On the other hand, it seems as though that progress is not enough to tackle poor mental health. Loneliness and an increased desire for perfection are still eating away at millions of Americans.

Poor mental health is often linked to our youth- the millennial generation. However, disorders like depression affect a huge range of age groups. Beginning with our elderly, retired Americans are experiencing a “loneliness epidemic”. Over six million of our elderly live in isolation, with little communication with others in their everyday lives. This is often due to their lack of knowledge to use modern technology, lack of access to transportation, and the lack of effort the younger generations put forth to communicate with them. Emotionally, these elderly individuals end up becoming reserved and withdrawn. Recent behavioral research from Cornell University and the University of Utah has corresponded loneliness to depression, dementia progression, and higher rates of cardiovascular disease. An account by a clinical nurse, Dr. Olimpia Paun, recounts how just one interaction with a lonely elderly created a decade long friendship. In hindsight to our elderly, the answer to their “loneliness epidemic” is simple. We can improve their mental state just by interacting with them more.

With our working adult class, this feat becomes much harder to accomplish. In 2015, a survey conducted by the APA stated that 72% of Americans felt stressed out about money at least once in any given month. Financial obligations also cause individuals to not seek out necessary healthcare, put strain on everyday relationships, and adapt to poor lifestyle routines. This includes a poor diet and a lack of exercise. In a fast-paced society like our own, working class Americans are constantly working. They wake up, they go to work, they sleep, and then they go to work again. This mundaneness is what causes hopelessness and unhappiness. For a majority of Americans that don’t work in their dream career, they are living to pay bills for a family they rarely have time to be with. Office job holders have limited social lives as work demand continuously increases. Technological advances even cut the necessity of face to face interactions, as communications can take place electronically. Despite how amazing our technological advances are, the authenticity of a human presence is eliminated in these contexts. Our working class is just as isolated as our elderly, but also shoulder a majority of society’s financial burdens. They lead unhealthy, overworked lives and do not stop to take care of themselves. It is no wonder that their mental state is deteriorating.

Yet of our population, it is our young adults and youth that are the most commonly depressed and anxious. The poor mental health states of our youngest demographics are attributed mainly to highly set societal standards. Our college student population can demonstrate this appropriately. According to psychologist PhD Gregg Henriques, there exists a “college student mental health crisis” modelled by “a significant number of college students experiencing mental health problems” and “dramatic increases in the demand of mental health services on college campuses.” Looking at a report by the ACHA, the percentage of college students experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness, and suicidal thoughts have all doubled since 2008. Illegal drug use and alcohol abuse has also increased slightly in percentage by an average of 0.4%. Why is this?

As a college student myself, I can state that demands of the market stresses me out. Looking at the financial stress my parents go through, I try hard in college to hopefully provide a better life for them and my own kids in the future. To do that, I would need a decent job, which requires a near perfect GPA. We do not obsess over learning as much as a number slapped on our transcript.

Not only that, but in social contexts, we are constantly told by the entertainment industry of what society likes. Desirable men need nice abs and a dominant attitude. Desirable women need an hourglass shape and these days, intelligence. Constantly exposed to these mediums, we are wired from a young age to believe that we are less than perfect if we do not look exactly as the models in our magazines and the actors in the shows we watch. We will always compare ourselves to the models of perfection that society has created- despite all of ourselves BEING the very society we scorn. The youth face overwhelming pressure from expectations, not only from their parents and their peers but from themselves. They strive for perfection because they believe it is necessary to progress in the world, but perfection is hardly ever obtainable. The disappointment from not being able to achieve superbly high expectations and standards become a common breaking point for a lot of the youth demographic.

Medical experts often answer that loneliness and financial strife is hard to resolve. We cannot force more interaction amongst people, and we cannot resolve the overwhelming amount of debt that everyone has. However, solutions are not impossible. The first step to addressing this crisis is to recognize that there is one, and this means raising awareness to the severity of the problem. Despite widespread poor mental health, being sad should not be the new normal. We should teach individuals how to live a happier life by promoting proper diet and exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, which relieves stress and is good for the preservation of the body. A proper diet fuels this lifestyle through the energy it will provide.

We should also provide professional services and make them more readily available. Support centers that can be funded by government subsidies can allow for affected individuals to heal and obtain a better quality of life. We can redefine what perfection is.

Finally, we should learn to listen and talk to one another. It is difficult given the dangerous state of the world, but if we learn to be more trusting and believe in the kindness of one another, we can create a better society. I volunteer for a nonprofit group called “Sidewalk Talk”, whose mission is to listen to the voices of people in our communities that are otherwise unheard. As our managing director, Traci Ruble, states, “When we listen to the marginalized emotions inside, we can hear marginalized voices outside.”

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