As the 2020 election has grown nearer, students have become overstressed about the modern political climate and the possible implications of the election results to the point where it is negatively affecting their mental health.
According to a study conducted by Kevin Smith and John Hibbing of the University of Nebraska and Matthew Hibbing of the University of California-Merced, politics are a source of stress for 38% of Americans, with 18.3% of Americans saying they have lost sleep over politics.
“The major takeaway from this is that if our numbers are really anywhere in the ballpark, there are tens of millions of Americans who see politics as exacting a toll on their social, psychological, emotional and even physical health,” Smith, the lead author of the study, said.
Paul Gionfriddo, the president and CEO of Mental Health America — a nonprofit that is dedicated to addressing the needs of those with mental illnesses — said the organization has seen an increase in its mental health screening participation. Since the nonprofit’s launch in 2014, about one million people have taken screenings each year, but this year, over 1.5 million people have already taken the screening, with roughly 10,000 people taking it per day.
“We’re getting about a third of (screening testers) who attribute their own mental health condition to current events, and that’s significant because these are people who are screening at moderate to severe for anxiety and depression,” Gionfriddo said.
Gionfriddo said that given the statistics on the screenings, people between the ages of 11 and 24 are feeling the impacts of politics and current events affecting their mental health the most. He said that in this case with the election nearing, something students can do to help their mental health is control what they can.
“There’s one time we have control, and that’s when we decide to go into the voting booth and choose who we want next,” Gionfriddo said. “Vote and just exercise the power that you have during the political process because that in and of itself can just help students to feel a little better.”
Livie Ruhl and Lydia Cates, co-directors of UM’s mental health organization Active Minds, were originally planning on having their Movies for Mental Health event the week of the election, but then they decided to save it for the week after.
“Lydia and I spoke about just sending out some good mental health reminders like how to take care of anxious or depressive thoughts during election week,” Ruhl said. “During that week, we will have our committees set up, so hopefully we will be getting daily content out by that time.”
Ruhl, who is a political science major, said she understands that keeping up with politics is a mentally draining activity, and she is feeling the stress.
“In this day and age, (politics are) impossible to ignore. I personally think it’s a luxury and privilege to be able to ‘ignore’ politics,” Ruhl said. “It’s something I have to deal with a lot, and a lot of times, I just have to put my phone away for the night and have a self-care night.”
Laura-Martin Levensailor, a junior French major, said that politics are a very heavy topic for her, and she considers it overwhelming to stay up to date with all the current events.
“I hate to say it, but I feel like my brain and heart can only handle two or three heavy subject matters at a time to be passionate about, and right now there are so many different issues that need our engagement and commitment,” Levensailor said. “With Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, the upcoming election, immigration issues, women’s rights and so much more running through my brain all the time, life becomes heavy and can often feel hopeless.”
Levensailor said that because of the political climate and all the political issues, she feels that it is hard to talk about personal struggles since other people have worse issues to deal with than her.
“Who am I to talk about academic stress when people are dying or going homeless because of COVID-19?” Levensailor said. “Obviously, I matter, too, but I am very privileged, so it is hard to navigate that space.”
Ruhl said that although she’s not a professional, she does have advice for students who are feeling particularly stressed or are struggling with maintaining mental health.
“There are so many things people can try to do to improve their mental health, but I always start with therapy … Being able to go and talk to someone that is completely unbiased in your life is so refreshing,” Ruhl said. “There are a few things I would recommend to anyone looking to improve their mental health without therapy. I personally find sticking to a schedule to be a very integral part of my days. Waking up and making a plan for the day helps me so much.”
Gionfriddo said that something students can do for their mental health is find activities that comfort them and don’t put too much pressure on them.
“Do things that give you joy and comfort,” Gionfriddo said. “Double down on the things that make you feel best about yourself and best about any circumstances you happen to be living in.”
Gionfriddo said that something people can do for themselves is speak up, share their worries and find other people to share theirs.
“When people start sharing their anxieties and hear somebody else telling their story, they tend to be more willing to tell their own, and people can find peers that way to get support,” Gionfriddo said.