Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
“I had more people crying in my office the day after the election than honestly I’ve had since the day after 9/11,” Dan Hartman, a Philadelphia-based psychiatrist, told Philly.com about his patients’ reactions to Donald Trump becoming president. Four months in, the wounds are still fresh, and the Trump administration, with its trampling of rights, unending legislative chaos and wholesale disregard for the truth, continues to cause millions of heart palpitations, insomniac nights and untreatable migraines.
The White House occupants also remain steadfastly committed to wreaking havoc on our mental states. As Republicans pushed an insurance bill that would have done lasting damage to Americans’ mental and behavioral health well-being, clinicians reported the psychic wages of the Trump war against U.S. citizens. “Add up the additional medications prescribed, extra ER visits, delayed procedures, missed work, plus the fallout from other illnesses being relegated to the back burner, and you have the makings of a major medical toll from this election,” Danielle Ofri, a physician at Bellevue Hospital and professor of medicine at New York University, warned at Slate.
So how exactly is Trump harming our mental states in this moment and for the foreseeable future? Here are five ways, representing just a drop in the bucket, if that bucket were dropped in the middle of the Pacific ocean.
1. Trump Anxiety Disorder
Months before election results came in, nearly a year ago exactly, massage therapists and mental health clinicians began reporting increases in patient anxiety specifically related to fears of a Trump presidency. In a Washington Post article from March 2016, a bipartisan cross-section of Trump Anxiety Disorder sufferers describe coping with panic attacks, insomnia and a cluster of other symptoms one woman rightly summed up as “not a pathological response to a normal situation, but a normal response to a pathological situation.” One therapist interviewed for the piece admitted she was wrestling with her own fright over the prospect of having Trump in the White House. “I’m terrified that he could win,” Mary Libbey, a New York City psychologist told the Post, nailing the horror that is now our reality. “His impulsivity, his incomplete sentences, his strange, squinty eyes — to my mind, he’s a loosely held-together person.”
Writing at Psychology Today, clinical therapist Jeremy Clyman offers advice with a heavy dose of reality: “This new Trump era brings with it a predictable and concrete increase in risk of societal incompetence which, in turn, will create greater sources of distress and injustice and more instances of avoidable harm and stunted progress for all, especially the disenfranchised,” Clyman writes. “In other words, this f**king sucks.”
He goes on to suggest “radical acceptance” of this “painfully harsh reality” as the first step to healing. The next step, according to Clyman, is “to channel [negative] emotions constructively.” He advises against “apathy, withdrawal or violent protest,” instead asserting the afflicted might be helped by “joining peaceful groups and organizations, dispassionate debates with others, and assertions of personal political power (e.g. vote, and blow up your congressman’s cell phone and email, etc.).”
2. The Trump 15
As the name implies, this is a lot like the freshman 15, but without any upsides like losing your virginity at the same time. The Trump 15 is the effect of emotional binge eating and drinking undertaken to blunt the pain caused by witnessing—in real time—the destruction of civilization by a treasonous conman, his band of alt-right ideologues and thieving billionaires, and 63 million accomplices whose voting habits are based in fear and spite. It helps in the short term. “Sugars and fats release opioids in our brains, meaning they basically mimic the effect of the active ingredients in cocaine, heroin and other narcotics,” writes Ivey DeJesus in an explainer of the Trump 15 phenomenon. “The calming, soothing effects we feel when we eat ice cream and mac and cheese are real.”
Art Markman, who teaches psychology at UT Austin, told DeJesus that the best way to curb your cupcake and booze cravings is to distract yourself with activities that make you feel like you have agency and control in this time of crisis and chaos. “Find a charity, nonprofit, or religious group that shares your values and volunteer,” Markman advises. “Help in the community.”
3. Trump Fatigue Syndrome
This one is so pervasive that even the American Conservative—an outlet founded by cranky bigot Pat Buchanan to fight radical liberal ideas like race-mixing and women drivers—dedicated a column to it, citing it as a result of the “outrageous things Trump does” which “are coming fast and furious.”
Vox more precisely summed up the condition as, “The exhaustion you feel from trying to stay on top of the nonstop scandals and absurdities emanating from the Trump administration. TFS, for short.”
It’s been suggested that TFS is an intentional outcome created by the Trump administration itself (i.e. President Bannon) to sap energy and quell dissent. In a viral Medium post thick with conspiracy thinking about the Muslim ban as a potential first step toward a coup, Yonatan Zunger posits that some White House policies are meant to rile up and wear down. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the goal is to create ‘resistance fatigue,’” Zunger writes, essentially labeling it outrage-bait meant to create unsustainable cycles of anger, protest and burnout.
Using similar thinking, Vox’s Lee Drutman offers four simple tips to avoid the trap:
- Pace yourself for a potentially long-term fight that may endure years.
- Don’t pay attention to Trump’s attempts to hijack the narrative, redirect the conversation and distract from the issues that matter.
- Watch your media consumption so that it doesn’t end up consuming you.
- It’s okay to have downtime and not know every single bit of news as it emerges in real time.
4. Post-Trump Election Trauma, aka Trump Trauma, aka Post-Trump Traumatic Stress Disorder
Psychotherapist Enrico Gnaulati writes that following Trump’s election, he was “inundated with clients using therapy time to process their shock, disbelief, dismay, and outrage.” Writing in Vox, therapist Betty Teng describes heartbreaking interactions with patients who endured Trump campaign violence against people of color, women, queer and trans folks and religious minorities, and were seized by fear following his election. One patient told Teng that having “four out of six identity markers Trump will target—Arab, gay, immigrant, and woman,” she didn’t “feel safe walking around anymore.” Another decided not to report her own sexual assault, so traumatized was she by the realization that a man who boasts about criminal sex acts could win the Electoral College. “I recognized these responses…as symptoms of traumatic shock, the possible harbingers of post-traumatic stress disorder,” Teng notes.
A number of psychologists suggest the intensity and mass scale of psychological unease, fear and anxiety caused by Trump’s election makes the presidency a site of collective trauma. Sociologist Neil Gross, writing in the New York Times, writes that the concept “occurs when an unexpected event severs the ties that bind community members to one another.” The presidential election according to Gross, “has collective trauma written all over it.”
In nearly every case, clinicians recommend connection, self-care and political pushback—as well as Vitamin B, complex carbohydrates and protein—as the remedy for what Trump ails. “We all need to be gentle with each other and curious about each other’s experiences,” Jason Evan Mihalko, a Massachusetts psychologist, told the Boston Globe.
5. Trump-Related Bullying
A Southern Poverty Leadership Conference report released in April 2016 documented a precipitous rise in bullying among K-12 students. Muslims, Latinos and students of color reported being increasingly targeted by white students who, tracing a familiar pattern, were emboldened by racist parents, who were themselves emboldened by Trump’s racism and xenophobia.
Since the election, the SPLC conducted another survey of 10,000 educators and administrators. “Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected [by the election], and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact,” researchers conclude. “A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.”
Trump’s election has exacerbated the frequency of racist attacks in schools, which can have deeply consequential, life-altering effects on students. Researchers Ebony McGee and David Stovall developed the term “weathering” to describe the “cumulative effects of living in a society characterized by white dominance and privilege,” which “produces a kind of physical and mental wear-and-tear that contributes to a host of psychological and physical ailments” on those who are targeted. The consequences include “anxiety, stress, depression and thoughts of suicide, as well as a host of physical ailments like hair loss, diabetes and heart disease.”
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