Traditional American society is built around work ethic, ambition and paving your own way in life. The American Dream, right? This has long led to a decreased focus on health and self care, opting instead for longer work hours and guilty consciences.
Growing up, we are taught that time spent on yourself should take the back burner to furthering your education, working or accomplishing some sort of task. The United States is tied for second place in highest depression rates based on nation, second only to Ukraine, a nation currently under vicious attack.
Despite the United States being a highly developed nation, it ranks in the lower half among the other most developed countries in availability of mental health professionals such as social workers, nurses and psychiatrists. Likewise, primary care practices in the U.S. are among the least likely out of the developed world to be equipped to deal with a mental health crisis. This limited availability of resources has led to the cost of access to mental health professionals being more expensive than many can afford.
For a nation that prides itself on being the best in the world, there are certainly a significant number of people with mental health issues. Nearly 20% of American adults, equivalent to around 50 million people, experience mental illness. Mississippi ranks in the bottom half of states when measuring the prevalence of mental illness in both teens and adults. These staggering statistics beg one question: why?
Without adequate access to mental healthcare, it is easy to see why such a focus on self-care or spending time focused on things that bring you joy has taken shape in recent years, particularly among the younger population. This behavior is often regarded as selfish or a waste of time, which explains why only 6.6% of adults over age 25 in America report engaging in healthy self-care every day. A mindset change must occur in America if we want greater, widespread well-being. When people are made to feel like self-care or “me time” is negative, they will engage in it less. In turn, they are also likely to feel guilty about taking that time for themselves.
America is regarded by many as the greatest country in the world, but we can’t possibly hold this title if we continue to shame people for taking care of themselves. Surveys have shown that as many as 4 in 5 people wish they had more time for self-care, but cite that they don’t have enough time for these activities.
What’s missing from our self-care routine is awareness. A few minutes a day will help relax and relieve a stressed brain. Simple tasks like taking time to stretch or journal can positively impact mental health while requiring little time. Your mental health is tied with your physical health, too. They can positively and negatively impact one another. A combination of working out, diet changes and any number of low-intensity mental activities can work wonders for a state of mind.
No matter how busy life gets, no one can expect to be a healthy and productive person without taking time to unwind for themselves. Self-care should be encouraged as a part of everyday life. People shouldn’t feel guilty if they aren’t dedicating their lives to work or school.
The mental health crisis in America is real, and if we hope to remain worthy of the title of global superpower, we need to spend more time focusing on providing access and information to our inhabitants.
Briley Rakow is a junior majoring in integrated marketing and communications from Lemont, Ill.