INDIANAPOLIS — 2020 has been a year filled with many major events, among them the 2020 presidential election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump.
But well before November, Americans experienced a near nuclear war with Iran; the death of NBA Hall-of-Famer Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, and an abdication from Royal Family members, then Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan.
These alone weren’t the only major events. Americans later watched President Trump be impeached, and found not guilty, experienced a new, deadly virus strain and global lockdown and reflected on a racial justice uprising after officers shot and killed George Floyd & Breonna Taylor, and another critically wounded Jacob Blake.
If that were not enough, Hollywood lost major stars and so too did the Supreme Court with the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With that vacancy, another woman, Amy Coney Barrett, was appointed the 9th justice to the high court.
Top these events off with one of the nation’s most contentious election, and many Americans are emotionally, mentally and physically drained.
“People might be experiencing stress, nervousness, anxiety,” said Dr. Danielle Henderson, an IU Health psychologist.
This sort of experience is called Post Election Stress Disorder (PESD), and a Maryland psychologist first discussed this following the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Four years later, doctors are still researching how politics is impacting Americans’ mental health.
“Every situation is unique, but with high stake situations there is, a lot of times, a feeling of personal involvement and a lot of personal investment, and I think that’s definitely seen in this election and so yes those things can definitely contribute to the increased anxiety and depression and stress,” said Dr. Henderson.
The American Psychological Association (APA) studied election stress with half a million Americans.
In 2016, it found more than 50% of those surveyed said they were significantly stressed about the election; in 2020, nearly 70% reported having that same feeling.
This stress doesn’t just disappear after election night.
“…for some people their response to the election might be more heighten than their response to day-to-day stressors, and some people might not have an increased stress response at all,” Dr. Henderson explained.
If history teaches us anything, election stress isn’t going anywhere.
“I think the chances are, with all due regret, that this polarization, that the hostility, that the personal animosity between the two sides is going to continue for quite some time because it’s going to be lifted up by people who benefit from it,” explained Dr. Margie Hershey, a political science professor at Indiana University.
Dr. Hershey calls this “negative partisanship.” It’s when hate for the opposite party fuels voters more than love of their own party, and that can be stressful!
But America has been building up to this negative partisanship.
In 2000, hanging chads stressed out voters and led to a greater division between the two parties, later casting doubt among some Americans about the election process.
“Once the Supreme Court stopped the recount in Florida and essentially gave the election to George W. Bush, the reaction from his Democratic opponent, Al Gore, was to say, ‘The election results are in. God bless the new Bush administration’” Hershey described. “That’s a bit different from what we’ve heard from President Trump over the past couple of weeks.”
Without that concession, many of Americans are wondering what’s next. And 220 years ago, voters had similar stress; but again, the difference is the incumbent did concede. A new party took over for the first time in America’s history.
“(John) Adams and (Thomas) Jefferson hated one another,” the political expert said. But she noted that despite that, “It was necessary for (President John) Adams and his party to step down.”
As with past campaigns, this will end. A sign of that happened this week when the General Services Administration recognized the Biden-Harris ticket as the apparent winner of the 2020 election.
As more develops during the post-election transition, doctors suggest using several tools to manage PESD.
“Being mindful and setting limits with yourself — also thinking about, ‘Who is it I want to be each day? What are my values? What are things that are important to me?’” are questions Dr. Henderson recommends people ask themselves.
The physician also suggests setting boundaries with people who currently might be too divisive.
If you are experiencing more severe reactions and feelings to election stressors or any others from this year, like self-harm, depression, loss of appetite, there is help.
If you feel suicidal, there is help. You are not alone!
Call 800-273-8255 or text “IN” to 741741. You can also visit, https://www.in.gov/issp/, where you will also find more mental health resources.