If these past few years of political turmoil and divisiveness in America have significantly increased your stress levels, you are far from alone. Whatever your political beliefs, the current political climate in America is so divided — and downright terrifying at times — it is completely understandable to have strong feelings about it.
Add in the effects of a 24-hour news cycle, and the never-ending onslaught of social media, and you have a recipe for increased mental health risk.
Statistics Related to Mental Health and Politics
Those who work in the mental health field can attest to this. Therapists have seen a huge spike in mental health disorders related to politics, as well as an increase in patients looking for help. In 2017, The American Psychological Association (APA), which conducts an annual “stress poll” saw the largest 10 year spike in stress among Americans. Of those surveyed, 57% reported stress about the political climate; 66% about our nation’s future; and 49% about the previous presidential election.
Americans are losing sleep, too, according to a poll from this past summer. One in seven — or 34 million of us — are suffering from politics-related insomnia. And it’s no wonder. Hate crimes are at a 10 year high. Many of us are worried about being able to afford health insurance now, and for the long haul. We are terrified that our basic civil rights might be stripped at any time, that we’ll be banned or deported, and that democracy as we know it might be in the toilet.
Politics Are Personal
Politics is deeply personal these days. Many of us have lost friendships and or had to distance ourselves or cut ties with family members whose beliefs offend us. Racism and sexism — even among our loved ones — feels more out in the open now. Or, we have become more aware of it. Old and new wounds have been opened, many that feel irreparable.
If you, like me, already had a mental health disorder (anxiety and panic disorder in my case), you have likely needed to practice an unduly amount of self-care just to keep everything in check. Perhaps you started therapy again. Or maybe you have needed to stay out of the political arena just to make it through your days (no shame in doing what needs to be done to stay healthy and well!).
First of all, let’s all let out a big, cleansing, well-deserved sigh. It is not your imagination: Things really have been this stressful. I have never in my lifetime felt this uncertain and terrified about my country. I know so many of you are feeling that way too. Group hugs all around.
How Voting Supports Our Mental Health
But do you know what is the antidote to feeling this desperate and beaten down? VOTING! Doing something — anything — to make your feelings about what is happening in this country known is vital. It’s not only good for the future of this country, but for your mental health.
Part of what feels so difficult about the political times is we find ourselves disempowered and helpless. Although voting won’t necessarily fix all the problems we have, it is a chance for us to make our voices heard, and to tap into a feeling of empowerment and choice.
How You Can Get Involved in Political Change
Besides making sure that you get yourself to the polls or get your mail-in ballot into the mailbox ASAP, there are so many other ways you can get involved this political season.
Here are some ideas:
- Participate in a postcard mailing campaign, encouraging all your fellow Americans to vote.
- Donate what you can to political candidates whose views align with yours. Every little bit counts.
- Ask your friends and neighbors if they are voting.
- Offer to drive people to the polls who have no way of getting there (or alert them to the generous folks at Lyft and Uber who are offering free rides to the election).
- Phone bank for political candidates. You can do so for candidates outside your state.
- Sign up to do some political canvassing in your neighborhood.
If that list sounds daunting to you, remember that you don’t have to do all, or any of these. But you might find that just doing one or two items spread out over the next week will feel really good. Again, just taking action, big or small, is an incredibly healing gesture, and will do wonders for your wellbeing.
Most of all, vote. Tuesday November 6th, rain or shine. Do the research to find the candidates and initiatives committed to protecting and expanding your access to mental healthcare. Vote like your mental health depends on it. Because it does.