How this election season will affect the mental health of Americans indefinitely

How this election season will affect the mental health of Americans indefinitely

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*Note: This column was written before the presidential-election results were finalized.

As a psychotherapist, I have never seen so many of my clients’ mental health affected by current events (with perhaps the exception of the Pulse shooting). Like many therapists and educators around the country have observed throughout this election season, there has been a marked increase in anxiety among children and adults alike. To go further, LGBT people, women, racial and ethnic minorities and sexual-assault survivors have been observed to experience increased feelings of fear, shame and an overall loss of control. The season also brought with it a surge of bullying and aggressive behaviors, harassment and blatant hate-speak, again in both children and adults.

Thankfully, the election is over. We will no longer be subjected to article upon article and news report upon news report of who said what and how it will affect the polls and our country overall. We get to return to our usual programing, if you will. This will undoubtedly help many of us to experience a decrease in anxiety because anxiety is ultimately the result of fear of the unknown. We now know who our next president will be, thereby reducing the degree of what is yet to be known, albeit not eradicating it.

There are still many questions about what the next four years and beyond will look like for this country and one major reason is because it won’t be easy to close the Pandora’s Box that Donald Trump has opened with his overt and unapologetic bigotry, racism, misogyny and homophobia. He has normalized the verbalization of every hateful thing that could possibly exist within each of us, and the effects of that are potentially more dangerous than we know at present. Both fortunately and unfortunately, this is new territory for Americans within recent history, making research and/or data on the subject virtually nonexistent.

What we do know is, if the uptick of racism doesn’t scale way back, it will continue to incite violence, increase feelings of isolation and alienation for minorities and set back the Black Lives Matter movement.

What we also know is that if men continue to denigrate, disrespect and objectify women at higher rates than they were before this election, our next generation of women will have to work twice as hard to believe that they hold just as much value as men do. 

Further still, what we do know is that sexual-assault survivors have been triggered. From Trump’s 2005 recorded conversation with Billy Bush where he speaks about women in a shockingly lewd manner, to the quick infamy that “grab them by the p**sy” has gained, to his body shaming of a former Miss Universe winner, to name a few incidents, many sexual-assault survivors, especially those earlier on in their recovery processes, have been activated in a way that has set their mental health on a path of decline.

As we embark on an undoubtedly necessary period of healing and respite, there are several elements of both self-care and grassroots activism that we should all be considering. First, take a rest from the news and social media for a couple of days or maybe even a couple of weeks. This often serves as a good way to recharge your battery after an especially trying time in the country and/or world. Second, assess what your individual needs are. If you fall into any of the categories mentioned above, do you need extra support? One study showed, in a sample of 1,000 Americans, almost 45 percent of individuals had been experiencing emotional distress as a result of this election season. Therapy may be a good option if you too fall into this category.

Once your own mental and emotional health are properly attended to, it might be a good time to ask yourself if you’re someone who is invested in doing your small part to help America bounce back and move towards an equitable society. So many of us have taken to social media to share articles, to post opinions and even to fight against small-mindedness but is this something that you wanted to engage in only prior to the election? If those of us who feel equipped to do so continue to be strong voices in a completely grassroots way, we can help reverse the damage that has been done to our country in these last months.

As we gradually move towards a return to normalcy as a nation, let’s all try to be kind to one another, support each another and look towards the future with optimism in spite of every temptation to do the inverse.

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