Physical health checkups have long been an accepted part of life for the vast majority of people in western countries, but the same cannot be said of mental health checkups. At a time when almost 20% of American adults experience mental illness (and that is only those who report symptoms), and when people are more closed off from society and human interaction than perhaps ever before, now is absolutely the time to revisit the benefits and make mental health checkups a normalized practice for all people in the United States.
Perhaps the largest barrier to the idea of normalized, institutional mental health checkups is the stigma of mental health issues and difficulties surrounding them. People who experience mental health disorders are still often perceived as ‘weak’ or just ‘crazy. Thankfully, that stigma is starting to wear away with the younger generation being far more open to discussing mental health – but mental health consultations as an American practice and expectation would likely do more than anything else to end that stigma broadly. If mental health support is placed as an essential part of all people’s lives, just like physical health, compassion, and empathy for those struggling in these areas could become much more widespread.
Depression and anxiety disorders are particularly prevalent among Americans, with the data from the National Alliance on Mental Illness stating that “Approximately 7% of all US adults undergo at least one bout of depression annually, and more than 18% of adults experience some kind of disorder related to anxiety, for instance, phobias or obsessive-compulsive behavior.” Increased awareness of these disorders as a common part of life through mental health checkups would both decrease stigma and work to help many with recognizing symptoms of them in their own behavior and begin the process of treatment.
The idea of nationwide mental healthcare and checkups is not a new proposition, as stated by H. Steven Moffic, MD in the Psychiatric Times: “[over] fifty years ago…[primary] prevention [stopping the emergence of an impending disorder] was included as one of the priorities in the original Community Mental Health Center Act, designed to provide better mental health in the public sector.” Funds for this act were later blocked in 1980, but now is the time to institute this vision into reality. In our current time, where COVID-19 has left people more isolated than perhaps ever before in American history, and where people have been left critically stressed and anxious from the political, social, and even physical condition of the world around them – the idea of a normalized national expectation for a mental health checkup, where you can speak the problems you would normally bottle inside yourself and actually be heard in a meaningful and helpful way, is perhaps more critical than ever before.