Political Depression and Tribalism In The U.S. Is Fueling An Acute Increase In Mental Illness But, It Doesn’t Have To Become Chronic
The political climate in the America has become increasingly divisive in recent years, and between 24-hour cable news channels and the constant barrage of unfiltered news stories on social media and news apps on our smartphones, it is nearly impossible to avoid the tension. Tension that is often consciously fueled by those with a desire to become internet influencers and, in some instances, by people we have elected to political office. Politics is often at the center of conversation at the dinner table, in the break room, and on friends’ social media posts.
America, as viewed by foreign countries and especially our global allies, is at a critical turning point, as the results of our political divides and the incendiary political tribalism that we as a nation have allowed to dominate our news cycle. With the endless stream of information, it is no surprise that so many people are feeling a level of fear and distress related to politics. The political divisions, social discourse, and our insatiable appetite to indulge in falsehoods over facts is making us emotionally sick. A striking new study from Kevin B. Smith, Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, suggests the universe of people who find our politics a torment might be much larger than he had realized.
According to a recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), more than 80 percent of Americans say that the nation’s future is a significant source of stress, compared to 69 percent of people in 2018, and 72 percent of respondents said that this is the lowest point in the nation’s history that they can recall. Furthermore, a similar study by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and the University of California, Merced, confirmed what most mental health professionals already know: politics can be harmful to our health. The statistics, collected from more than 800 Americans, is sobering: 1) Nearly 40 percent of people say that politics has caused them stress; 2) More than a quarter felt depressed when their candidate lost an election; 3) Nearly 20 percent have lost sleep over politics; 4) Fatigue is also attributed to politics, with 20 percent reporting feeling tired because of political news; 5) Relationships suffer too, with 29 percent of people reporting losing their temper over politics and 26 percent feeling hateful toward those with opposing political views, and 6) More than 20 percent of respondents say political disagreements have damaged friendships. Having spent 27-years of my professional career in the Mental Health field, including five-years as a Deputy Commissioner in the Nassau County Department of Mental Health (1988-1993), we need to answer the question; Is politics worth us jeopardizing our own mental health for?
This threatening reality within our politics has fueled political tribalism or the strong bias towards one political party over another. It goes beyond having a different opinion with a neighbor about important issues. According to the publication Psychology Today, “Polarization occurs when individuals cluster themselves into groups that compete against each other and where negotiation and compromise are seen as a betrayal. It affects families, workplaces, residential communities, and religious communities. In other words, political tribalism affects the very fabric of our society, and heightened anxiety, feeling of fatalism, and depression is a natural response.” However, political depression and political stress syndrome are real and have a significant impact on the quality of life for many people, particularly those who are already living with conditions like depression and anxiety.
For those people that are experiencing political depression and stress disorders (PTSD), there are steps we can take and changes in our habits to reduce acute episodes, including,
- Reduce the amount of time you spend watching cable news programs, especially those that rely on opinions as opposed to facts. If you watch cable news for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night, you will get all the headlines you need to know.
- Do not watch cable news right before going to bed.
- Limit your time on social media and think twice before posting any of your political opinions if you haven’t vetted the people who follow you or who you follow.
- Try to remain neutral when people around you are discussing politics.
- Curtail political discussions at the dinner table.
- Spend more time focusing on yourself and your family instead of focusing on political issues.
Paule T. Pachter, A.C.S.W., L.M.S.W.
Chief Executive Officer
Long Island Cares, Inc.