Mental Health In The Current Political Climate

Stethoscope and US Flag

Regardless of where you stand, the current political environment has been stressful. We are feeling divisions between family and friends, and within and between communities. These kinds of divisions can cause stress, anxiety, fear, and sadness.

Politics has been pervasive even in my own private practice since the 2016 presidential election. Clients have needed to discuss and process their reactions. I’ve provided support best as I can by implementing typical therapeutic techniques, such as active listening, reflecting, and validating their perspective. There are still a lot of emotions.

How can we cope during a worrisome time?

Stay Engaged but Know When to Take a Time-out

Although it may feel tempting at times, burying your head in the sand is not a good long-term strategy. It’s important to stay politically engaged, but also protect yourself from too much stress when you feel overloaded.

Many of us become entrenched in online debates. When an uncle, niece, or friend of a friend posts provocative content, it’s hard to refrain from responding. If you find yourself spending a lot of time engaging in this kind of dialogue, you may want to take a step back and think about how you could use your time and energy in a more targeted way. For example, donate or volunteer for a political or social cause that’s meaningful to you. Or have an in-person conversation with a friend or neighbor.

Other media, such as television and radio, can be important instruments of engagement, but also overwhelming at times. Know when to turn them off or switch to lighter fare. For example, when I see clients who are depressed, I encourage them to watch favorite shows, movies from their childhood, or comedies—nothing too heavy.

Take Care of Your Mind and Body

Make sure to follow general wellness guidelines: get enough sleep, eat well, exercise regularly, and do things you enjoy. Spend time with friends and family. And if stress becomes too much, seek professional help.

Connect

Try to understand where the other side is coming from. If watching cable news channels elevates your blood pressure, try reading. For an explanation about the division between urban and rural America, read the University of Wisconsin’s own Kathy Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment. For insight into the alienation and loss felt by blue-collar workers, browse columns by the New York Times conservative writer David Brooks. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between The World and Me is an incisive look at what it means to be black in America, illuminating the importance of identity. With a different lens, we can try to have open, nondefensive conversations with those who see things differently.

According to Daniel Yudkin, a research psychologist, we are divided based on our core beliefs about ourselves and the world. His research highlights the fissures between those of us who perceive the world as a fundamentally dangerous place and those who do not. He also describes the differences in beliefs about how one achieves success via hard work and adherence to rules, ethics, and tradition versus a more independent success characterized by self-expression, self-awareness, and an acknowledgement of relevant privilege and oppression.

Mental Health and Insurance Coverage

With the passage of the mental health parity law under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), insurance plans that have mental-health coverage must offer comparable coverage to that of physical health. If the ACA is dismantled, mental-health coverage could regress to pre-ACA days, which could also include noncoverage of preexisting conditions. Pre-ACA, I found patients that were not covered for major depressive episodes because they had experienced depression previously. It was absurd. The very nature of depression is that it can recur.

Viewing the current political climate in the broader context of history and our country’s place in the world can be helpful. We have and will again weather many storms.

Elizabeth H. Winston, PhD , is a Madison psychologist who provides psychotherapy, psychological assessment, and consultation to businesses and organizations. Find her at shorewoodpsychology.com and consultingcollaborative.org .