How mental health is – and isn’t – figuring into the 2020 Presidential race (yet)

One of the great thrills of my political career was when I had the opportunity to meet Virginia Senator Tim Kaine. This was in 2016, about two and a half weeks before the November election, when he was Senator Clinton’s running mate. I spoke at the rally and got to shake his hand, but in the brief time we had together, I told him how much I appreciated their campaign releasing a mental health plan, as that was an issue important to me. He said thanks and agreed – he thought it was necessary.

My own political experience has made me realize that mental health is a deeply salient issue in politics – and one which can have a very serious political impact, and one which is often underestimated. I’ve used these statistics before and I will say them again: 1 in 5 Americans actively suffer from some sort of mental illness, and one in two will over the course of a lifetime. This means that virtually everyone in this country knows someone – or is someone – who suffers. For those reasons, and many more, I wish that more people spoke about mental health. We need to do a better job of addressing this issue, particularly given the way rates of mental illness are rising.

As you may know, there are now north of twenty Democrats running for the Democratic nomination for President. These candidates have a wide, wide range of plans and proposals for what they would do if they occupied the highest office in the land. But, as politics is my life, I got to thinking: Of the candidates, who has any sort of mental health plans, and who doesn’t? The answers of the major candidates:

No specific mental health plan

Actually has a specific mental health plan:

  • Former Congressman John Delaney: Hey, we found one! Among the highlights are enforcing mental health parity, expand access to at-risk populations and increasing reimbursement rates.
  • Andrew Yang: Yang specifically calls for better integration of physical and mental health, anti-stigma campaigns and an increase in access to mental health resources.

A word of caution: It’s still early. Really, really early. As in the first Presidential primary is about seven months away, and the Presidential election itself is slightly less than seventeen months away. The Clinton/Kaine mental health plan which I referred to above didn’t come out until October 2016, so there’s plenty of time left. It’s also worth noting that mental health care is likely in many of these candidate’s healthcare pages, not it’s own subheading – a mistaken, in my opinion.

Still. Kind of a bummer. I was hoping that more elected officials would be willing to specifically highlight mental health.

More in the future, I hope!

 

Empirical data confirms it: “Trump Anxiety Disorder” is real

Let me add a disclaimer here: This one is going to be difficult, because I’d like to approach the subject below as a legitimate mental health issue, not a political one.

I’ve written about this before, but a new Politico article, along with some of the data in it, has pushed this topic back to the surface.

From the article:

 The American Psychiatric Association in a May survey found that 39 percent of people said their anxiety level had risen over the previous year—and 56 percent were either “extremely anxious” or “somewhat anxious about “the impact of politics on daily life.” A 2017 study found two-thirds of Americans’ see the nation’s future as a “very or somewhat significant source of stress.”

All of this has led to the creation of – and I can’t believe I’m typing these words – “Trump Anxiety Disorder.” According to Dr. Jennifer Panning, that disorder is defined by, “increased worry, obsessive thought patterns, muscle tension and obsessive preoccupation with the news.”

Additional research has shown that the election resulted in people having a more difficult time having “open and honest” conversations and damaged relationships.

On a personal level, this jives with not only my experience, but conversations I’ve had with others. Years ago, I remember speaking with my therapist about how I was very stressed by the state of world affairs, and I commented that I knew how ridiculous that sounded. He looked at me as if I had three heads. “That’s not ridiculous at all. Almost all of my patients have said that.”

I was so, so relieved. And as I have relayed this story to others, they are relieved as well – it’s not just them! At all!

So, what is there to do about this? Yeah, on that one, I have very little. Unplugging and setting boundaries is important, but the best way I have been able to keep my focus in the age of Trump is this: Concentrate on where you can make a difference. Focusing on the non-stop news cycle (CNN/MSNBC/FoxNews are the worst things on the planet) will drive you nuts, no matter who you are. Concentrate on the areas where you can make a positive difference, and go from there.

That’s the best advice I can give. If you have anything better, please leave it in the comments below!

Is Donald Trump bad for your mental health? And what can you do about it?

 

Alright, let me start by admitting that I really debated writing this one.  I’m a politician, and a pretty progressive/Democratic one at that, so as you can imagine, I am pretty much diametrically opposed to…err, everything Donald Trump stands for.  As a result, the last thing I want to do is to be accused of “bringing politics” into a mental health discussion, something that I legitimately think happens too often.  I’m going to do my best to stick with legitimate, reputable sources as I discuss this issue, and try to approach it from the most objective angle possible.

The short answer to this question is yes, the President of the United States can be damaging your mental health.  That, of course, depends on a variety of factors.

Let’s start in my favorite place, Twitter:

Well, that was stressful.  And yes, there are plenty more.  I will say that, in my personal life, I’ve repeatedly joked that this election turned me from an elected official into a therapist: I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken with who are suffering from Trump-related anxiety.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, 24/7 crisis lines found themselves overwhelmed with calls from frightened individuals.  Then there is this Daily Dot article, which led with the subtitle, “If you’re a liberal with a history of depression or trauma, this presidency could be more damaging than you thought.”

Well, crap.

From the perspective of a therapist, there’s no doubt:

Several patients with histories of sexual abuse and self-image concerns told me that they experienced significant increases in anxiety. One reported that the constant news coverage triggered memories of her past sexual abuse, and another suffered frequent crying spells and difficulty sleeping.

Quoting multiple therapists and psychiatrists, the article notes that many clinical professionals have had patients tell them that they are experiencing additional anxiety, worry and depression as a direct impact of Trump’s rise to the Presidency.  This effect is particularly pronounced for members of threatened classes, such as people of color, the LGBT community or other religious minorities, many of whom are already more likely to suffer from mental illness.

Then there is this survey, conducted by the website CareDash.  The data below is copied directly from the survey:

  • More than half (59%) of Americans are at least somewhat anxious because of the November election results. The national survey findings mirror an online poll of CareDash newsletter subscribers which found that 55% of respondents are at least somewhat anxious because of the November election results.
  • Nearly three-fourths (71%) of people 18-44 are at least somewhat anxious because of the November election results.
  • Half (50%) of Americans are looking for ways to cope with the negative political environment.
  • Over one-third (39%) of Americans are avoiding social media to reduce their anxiety around the political comments.

Another survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association, found that 52% of Americans believed the 2016 elections were a very or somewhat significant source of stress in their lives.

It seems pretty clear: Yes, Donald Trump has had a negative effect on the nation’s mental health.

So, all of this begs the question: What can you do if you are suffering from Trump Anxiety?

This Lifehacker article and this article from Psychology Today lay it out pretty nicely: Don’t just worry.  Channel that worry into something real and tangible.

  • Ask yourself some key questions about what you can and cannot do.
  • Get active in politics or other social causes – ones that you care about – that will help you reestablish a sense of control in your life.
  • Stop reading the news all the time.  There is a difference between being informed and being obsessed.
  • Connect with others; family, friends and people who, like you, are under serious stress.
  • Exercise!
  • Write down your anxiety.  Don’t just let it be free-floating – write what is troubling you, and use the information you gain from that writing to fight back.

The elections, and the aftermath, have been extremely stressful to some.  If you are one of those people, know you aren’t alone.  If you aren’t, I hope this entry gave you some perspective: There are real people who are truly suffering as a direct result of the election and its aftermath.

As always, I’d love your thoughts in the comments below!