Independence Day: How Social Freedoms Impact Mental Health
The 4th of July, also known as Independence Day, is right around the corner. This holiday was initially started to celebrate the day America gained freedom from Britain. Now, it has become a holiday of symbolism for many Americans, a time to celebrate all of the freedom that this country stands for— the “American Dream”.
But there’s no denying that many Americans still don’t have a lot of the social freedoms this holiday claims to celebrate. How does that affect their mental health? Can living with a lack of freedom really impact your mental health?
Now seems like the best time to talk about this, since freedom is already on everybody’s minds. So let’s take a look at the ways freedom impacts mental health.
A quick side note: please, please, please abstain from setting off fireworks in your yard or driveway this year, no matter how legal it is! This can be triggering and upsetting for both people and animals, as well as having a terrible effect on the environment. If you really want to see fireworks, find an event that has been planned in advance in a more safe place!
The lack of freedom in America
I’m not here for a “debate” about whether or not Americans are truly free, because there’s no denying that many of them lack the social freedoms that people expect from America.
I’m not going to assign blame about these freedoms either: I simply want to acknowledge that the issue exists, so we can talk about how it affects people.
When talking about freedom and mental health, many people focus on personal freedoms: being held back by work, your family, etc. And yes, these freedoms can be an important part of your mental health.
But today, we’re not going to talk about personal freedom. Rather, we’ll focus on societal freedoms, something individuals have a lot less control over, and that requires change on a larger scale. While the two are related, we won’t be focusing on both.
Social freedoms are freedoms that are granted socially: the ability to get a job, to interact with peers, access to healthcare, education, etc.
Some restrictions on freedom can actually be good, and/or necessary to create a safe society. This is where debates around things like personal privacy come in.
But there’s no way to say that facing a lack of opportunity because of your race is a good thing. While some inhibitions may be good, a lack of freedom due to race, gender, sexual orientation, sex, religion, disability, etc. is not good.
The negative effects
Now we’ve discussed a few of the various ways of viewing freedom, and clarified that the restrictions we’re talking about today are not good ones. So without further ado, let’s take a look at how a lack of social freedoms affects mental health.
Discrimination— a form of inhibiting social freedom— can lead to people having a higher risk of mental illness, in nearly all of its forms. This is obviously not helpful, and can make life unnecessarily hard for those who face discrimination.
Depression from feeling hopeless
When you face a lack of social freedoms, things can seem bleak. If you struggle to get a job, get good healthcare, or otherwise interact with the world, How can you get done what you need to and achieve your dreams?
When facing these obstacles, you might feel hopeless. This can then lead to feelings of depression, which makes it even harder to function.
Anxiety and worry
Another common aspect of people who lack social freedom is the worry that something bad might happen. This could be anything from being denied a loan to direct physical violence.
And this worry is certainly not unfounded: we see every day that these things can and do happen.
This worry can make life harder on its own, and can also contribute to anxiety. Once again, anxiety isn’t a good thing.
Lack of resources
Facing a lack of access to resources, whether it be healthcare, money, or something else, can be very bad for mental health. These resources are essential to living a healthy life, and so obviously not having them will be detrimental.
Imagine if you couldn’t get access to good healthcare. How would that affect the way you see health problems? The way you feel about your own health?
Difficulty forming connections
Having a lack of social freedoms means that you might not be on the same “level” as your peers. Perhaps there is an uneven power dynamic, or they’re simply not in the boat as you, so they don’t understand your situation.
This doesn’t make connection impossible, but it sure makes it harder. This makes it more difficult to form bonds with friends, coworkers, and even romantic partners.
Loss of opportunities
Obviously, being discriminated against means that you could lose opportunities for work or other such situations. We constantly see evidence of people being denied jobs simply because of their race, nationality, sex, religion, etc.
Having fewer opportunities can contribute to the feeling of hopelessness I mentioned earlier. It can also make it more difficult to simply survive and live a good life, which would obviously be detrimental.
When most people talk about generational trauma, they talk about the Holocaust. But this kind of trauma can apply to nearly any situation with a lack of social freedom, and can be very bad for mental health.
Generational trauma is trauma that is passed down through generations, usually between family members. For example, if your great-great-grandfather was a slave, that story— and the pain it carries— can be passed down all the way to you.
Perhaps that story has no immediate effects on your life, but it carries an incredibly deep pain and despair that you have to then carry around with you.
Generational trauma comes in many forms, and each one can be equally difficult. This is perhaps one of the deepest and most troubling aspects of the lack of freedom in America, and has an (often unnoticed) effect on many people’s mental health.
You’re not alone
If you relate to any of the things I’ve mentioned, know that you’re not alone. Thousands, if not millions, of Americans struggle with the same thing, and that’s why some people don’t much like Independence Day.
If you still want to celebrate it, that’s fine. But take a moment to think about what you’re really celebrating, and if those around you truly have the freedom you think they do.
This doesn’t mean everything is hopeless. This lack of social freedoms, and the ensuing impact on mental health, doesn’t have to be permanent. We can all work together to create a world where more people have the freedom they should, and Independence Day can really celebrate what it claims to stand for.
Do you have other examples you want to share? Questions about social freedoms in America? We'd love to hear from you! Let us know by leaving a comment below or tagging us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeautichealingjourney on Instagram).