The US Capitol building

The Impact of Politics on a Nation’s Mental Health

The price of political upheaval is high. Among the many costs: the mental health of a nation 

Today, as America celebrates 246 years of independence, there is both a reckoning of the past and consternation for a future that seems all but uncertain. 

Many Americans are experiencing daily trauma. We tend to think of trauma as something resulting from a shocking and awful event such as a natural disaster or an assault. Recently, however, people throughout this country have been feeling a visceral, emotional response to the everyday strife that is exhausting our government. Constant updates on our phones and relentless social media posts are overwhelming and the ongoing uncertainty foments anxiety. The cumulative effect is nothing short of traumatic. 

Elected officials are supposed to represent, we the people. The question is, are they? Many Americans don’t think so. Once a highly respected and coveted profession, politics has become synonymous with ignominious dramatics, which is wreaking havoc on our psychological health as a whole. 

Mental health and healthcare are human rights, not issues that should be partisan or divisive but like so many things in America, mental health has become politicized and at times, exploited. It’s politically correct to stay silent but, there is little difference between remaining silent and the bystander effect, which essentially means quietly bearing witness to injustices without rendering aid despite being in a position to help. It’s time we take a stand and not be deterred by the apprehension of cancel culture. We must start to treat the “rights” we so unapologetically believe we deserve similarly to the “responsibilities” that are our moral obligation. 

This year alone, there have been 300 mass shootings in America. Kids are worried to go to school, parents are terrified, and teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates. Inflation is at a 40-year high and virtually everything has surged in price. Voting rights are under attack and hate crimes have grown exponentially. Global warming is threatening the earth’s natrual resources. All of that was already happening when, last week, the Supreme Court of the United States, the one branch of government that is supposed to be apolitical, overturned the fifty-year precedent known as Roe v. Wade, guaranteeing women the right to make private decisions about their reproductive health. 

This affects all women, but its impact will be disproportionately felt by those with the least access and the highest rates of maternal mortality. Some may see this monumental change as an aberration but perhaps there has been more fair warning than we have acknowledged. Let us not forget that women have only had the right to vote since 1920 and to this day, the Equal Rights Amendment, which was introduced to Congress in 1923, has failed to become enacted legislation.

Healthcare is not an issue that can be siloed. Physical, mental, and maternal health are all integrated. Research has shown that isolation and feeling helpless are risk factors for increased rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. America continues to endure the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as an epidemic of gun violence. The recent Supreme Court decision will almost certainly constrict an already overwhelmed healthcare system.  

Americans are hurting, some more than others. That pain is exacerbated by avaricious people seeking power and politicians insistent on promoting their own agendas. The legislative branch of government is as obfuscated as it is polarized, which equates to more rigmarole than movement. This impasse of government is an abject failure to the people of the nation. In the halls of congress, once the illustrious bastion of American democracy, compromise has become an incomprehensible concept. There is little room to amicably disagree and respect those who have differing ideologies. 

The temperature in this country has been rising over the past several years, beyond just that of climate change. The beliefs and actions among gargantuan portions of the population are predicated on purported lies. Social media has enveloped huge numbers of Americans in pernicious mistruths. People are angry and that incendiary energy has culminated in rancor and at times, violence.

The residual fallout we are living with must not be attributed to any one person or policy. It is, more likely, the result of unintentional oblivion that has provided ample opportunity for others to seize power and subvert the entirety of certain groups and their voices. For that, the consequences are dire.

It is imperative to find clarity about the beliefs we espouse and proceed towards a more unified place. As a nation, our collective mental well-being is on the line. While traditional interventions such as talk therapy, a strong social support system, and psychotropic medications may provide relief and are necessary treatments for many, our best recourse to push back on draconian, oppressive legislation is perhaps more straightforward, we simply must vote. Casting a ballot may just be the best way to honor our independence this July 4th.

Melanie Taussig
Melanie Taussig, Founder of Mental Health Missions