Is Your Health Connected To Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness?
There are a few phrases that the average American can rattle off from memory. One of the most iconic may be “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” — the rights that all people deserve, according to Thomas Jefferson. Though many of us know this phrase by heart, we may rarely give it a second thought. However, it can offer a uniquely American way of thinking about the importance of personal well-being and mental health.
After all, poor mental health can make it difficult for us to seek happiness in our lives. It can constrict our freedoms by distorting our thoughts. In some cases, it can even be a threat to life. Maintaining good mental health can have positive impacts on our life, liberty, and happiness. Working with a therapist can be helpful in achieving this goal.
Mental Health And American Life
The right to exist without fear of losing your life is the very first right discussed in America’s Declaration of Independence. However, many things can make life much more difficult to safeguard. One of those things may be mental illness.
Researchers estimate that, on average, people with severe mental disorders die 10 to 20 years earlier than the general population. The exact reasons aren’t definitively known yet, but there’s some evidence that chronic diseases can be a major factor. There are a variety of reasons why those with psychological disorders may be more likely to have physical illnesses, including long-term stress, difficulty maintaining healthy habits, or weight gain induced by medication.
Another possible risk factor is suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the 12th-leading cause of death among Americans, and a significant percentage of those who die by suicide have diagnoses or symptoms of mental health conditions.
There are resources available to help. You can reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 if you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In addition, mental health treatment may increase your lifespan by helping you make healthier lifestyle choices and adhere to productive habits.
While nearly half of Americans may receive the mental health treatment they deserve, surveys suggest that over half of Americans with mental health disorders don’t receive treatment. Barriers such as cost, limited numbers of care providers, and stigma around psychological illness can prevent many people from getting the help they need. Ensuring that Americans have a right to life may require improving the availability of mental health treatment.
Mental Health And American Liberty
Freedom can be trickier to define than many people might think. However, most people agree that it includes the right to make choices for yourself, assuming that they don’t infringe on other people’s ability to do the same. Many mental health conditions can interfere with a person’s ability to make decisions freely and live the life of their choosing.
The limitations that mental illness can place on personal freedom may have long been recognized in the psychological community. The fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders mentioned “an important loss of freedom” in its definition of a mental disorder. One of the ways a person can recognize that their emotional or cognitive difficulties have gone beyond the normal ups and downs of life is if they are significantly restricting their liberty.
- Symptoms making it difficult to engage in desired activities
- Lack of energy and stamina interfering with goals
- Difficulty maintaining focus, restricting the ability to learn and succeed
- Impairment of executive function — i.e., the ability to plan, prioritize, make decisions, and control impulses
Mental illness may also contribute to the loss of personal liberty by increasing the likelihood of incarceration or involuntary commitment to a psychiatric institution. Research has repeatedly found that having a major mental illness can significantly increase a person’s risk of serving jail time. While in some cases, this may be related to an increased likelihood of engaging in illegal behavior, the linked study indicates that legal authorities may also be more likely to imprison someone for a crime if that person has a mental disorder. Reducing the stigma of mental illness and working for greater fairness in sentencing may help ensure that people with psychological difficulties have the freedom they deserve.
Mental Health And The American Pursuit Of Happiness
If mental disorders can impact a person’s health and freedom, they can also affect that person’s ability to seek happiness. Some mental health conditions are at least partly defined by the absence of feelings of well-being, or the persistent presence of negative emotions, including:
- Depression, marked by feelings that can vary “from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency”.
- Borderline personality disorder, which can involve extreme mood fluctuations, insecurity about self-worth, and “chronic feelings of emptiness and boredom”.
- Generalized anxiety disorder, a condition typically defined by extreme, persistent feelings of worry or fear.
- Panic disorder, in which the high frequency of panic attacks and the fear of having panic attacks can cause a significant amount of psychological distress.
Other disorders may not directly affect happiness, but can still make it difficult to pursue. For instance, a person with a substance use disorder might harm their relationships or engage in self-destructive behavior due to their excessive use of intoxicants. And some people whose mental conditions damage their self-image may not believe they “deserve to be happy,” which could make it harder to motivate themselves to seek out ways to improve their lives.
How Mental Health Can Depend On Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of Happiness
Life, liberty, and happiness can be impacted by mental health, but the effects can also flow the other way:
- Extreme danger to a person’s life can result in posttraumatic stress disorder
- Poor physical health can contribute to emotional and cognitive dysfunction
- Loss of liberty due to incarceration often has negative mental health effects and may even cause mood disorders
- Being repeatedly prevented from seeking happiness by others might lead to anxiety, depression, or other psychological difficulties
This suggests that efforts to safeguard life, liberty, and the ability to pursue happiness might help to improve mental health overall. Safer, freer, happier people may be much less likely to develop severe difficulties with their emotions and thoughts.
What Does This Mean For Your Life?
Though much of the above discussion has focused on American society as a whole, it may have important implications for your personal well-being. Taking steps to improve your own life, liberty, and happiness may improve your mental health — and vice-versa.
Paying attention to your physical health and safety could be crucial for your psychological stability. Adopting a regular exercise regimen may help prevent or reduce the symptoms of a surprising range of mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, and even schizophrenia. Making regular visits to a doctor could lower your likelihood of developing an illness that might trigger mental health problems.
Your liberty may rely to some extent on your mental health, but achieving a greater sense of freedom could also help you become psychologically healthier. Studies suggest that people with a strong belief in their ability to affect what happens to them may be less prone to depression and other mental illnesses. Techniques such as positive affirmations and visualizations may help you reinforce your belief in your freedom to influence your life.
Pursuit Of Happiness
It may be worth examining your life to see if there are persistent sources of unhappiness that you can change. This may be very beneficial to your mental well-being in the long run. On the other hand, expecting yourself to be happy all the time could be counterproductive. There’s a fair amount of evidence that suppressing negative emotions can strengthen distressing feelings such as anxiety. A better approach might be to focus on living according to your core values, pursuing the things that give you the greatest sense of meaning in your life.
Therapy May Improve Your Life, Liberty, And Pursuit Of Happiness
Achieving greater well-being is often much easier with support from a licensed therapist or counselor. An experienced mental health professional can offer advice and guidance on developing better strategies for changing your behavior and reaching your goals.
If you’re uncertain about therapy, online counseling can often be a good way to get started. Many people find it easier to talk with a therapist over the internet than in person. Engaging in therapy through your personal device, from inside your own home, can provide a sense of control and familiarity that may make talking about your psychological difficulties seem less intimidating.
Though you might be skeptical about engaging in therapy through text or video chat, research indicates that it’s generally just as effective as more traditional approaches. An analysis of past studies including more than 10,000 total participants concluded that “there was no difference in effectiveness” between face-to-face therapy and sessions conducted online. Internet-based therapy can be a convenient, cost-effective, and valuable tool.
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