"Make America Great Again” was an idiom first used by Ronald Reagan when he announced his candidacy for President in 1979. The leading candidate so far for the G.O.P. nomination for president in 2016I, Donald Trump, uses the same phrase to show what he can do for our country because of his success in business.

As a mental health advocate, I beg to disagree with Mr. Trump. “First things first” is another idiom first used in 1545. It means the most important task gets priority, as in “I very much wanted to see that movie, but first things first-the paper's due tomorrow”.

In my opinion, we make America great again by rehabilitating our crippled mental health care system. It is a system that leaves more mentally ill people living on the streets than in psychiatric hospitals-- 26% of the nearly 600,000 American homeless—165,000 individuals were seriously mentally ill at any given point in time.  Over 200,000 with any mental illness are homeless; a system that makes approximately 356,000 inmates with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons—10 times more than in state mental institutions; a system that contributes to the suicides of 42,000 Americans each year—many of whom are between the ages of 15 and 24. The victims are young people who should be alive today contributing to the America economy to help make our country great again. According to a British study, “Not only does the stigmatization of mental illness prevent people from seeking treatment, which in turn exposes them to a greater risk of suicide, but also suicide can appear to be the best solution for a stigmatized individual”.

The financial impact of major depressive disorder (MDD) in America is $210.5 billion dollars each year. The economic cost of untreated mental illness is more than 100 billion dollars each year in the United States. 

“The prejudice and discrimination of mental illness is as disabling as the illness itself.  It undermines people attaining their personal goals and dissuades them from pursuing effective treatments,” says psychological scientist Patrick W. Corrigan of the Illinois Institute of Technology.

American industry can influence public policy, the law, and media. All three remain our greatest resources to stimulate change and spur action. “We also need to build bridges to other fields that connect to mental health, such as public health, primary care, and education,” according to a commentary by Former U.S. First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Rebecca Palpant Shimkets, and Thomas H. Bronfman of the Carter Center Mental Health Program.

In taking this integrative, multi-level approach, the Carter Center commentators are confident that there is hope for the future: “Together, we can create robust systems and services all along the path of recovery and encourage early intervention and access to treatments without fear of labels or diminished opportunities. When that is achieved, we will know that our tireless efforts to eradicate stigma have been successful.”’

Harry Truman was the President when I was born. He said something in a 1951 speech to the American Legion attacking the Communist witch-hunt of McCarthyism that should challenge anyone who stigmatizes mental illness and paralyzes our goal of American greatness:

“When even one American - who has done nothing wrong - is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth - then all Americans are in peril."

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