How The 2016 Election Affected Americans' Mental & Physical Health

On November 8, many of the 66 million people who cast their votes for Hillary Clinton experienced shock and despair. And for plenty of people, the pain has increased rather than subsided: Hate crimes have risen dramatically this year in cities including Chicago (160%), Seattle (41%), New York (40%), and Washington, D.C. (21%), and sexual assault survivors have described Trump's campaign and subsequent victory as nothing short of traumatic.

Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, and other marginalized communities are understandably living in fear. In what should come as a surprise to no one, the past months have been mentally and emotionally draining. And new research published in The New England Journal of Medicine explains why the 2016 election has caused physical and mental health problems for many people.

Harvard University scholar David R. Williams, who authored the paper, explains how and why major events like elections can impact people's health. “Events linked to the recent presidential campaign and election have given rise to fear and anxiety in many Americans,” Williams wrote. "[These events] can have negative health effects on people who have been direct targets of what they perceive as hostility or discrimination and on individuals and communities who feel vulnerable because they belong to a stigmatized, marginalized, or targeted group.”

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Previous studies have shown that the stress of discrimination can lead to a wide range of health problems, including increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and the common cold. Other research has suggested that living in a community with high rates of racial discrimination is linked to an increased risk of death.

Furthermore, it doesn't take outright discrimination to negatively impact health. The fear of discrimination also takes a toll. "Stress adversely affects health not only through actual experiences,” Williams explained, “but also because of rumination, vigilance, and worry over potential exposures.”

To put it succinctly, Williams says “marginalization equals poor health.” This is especially true for undocumented immigrants, who live in fear of both deportation and harassment. As a result, many of them are afraid to access public services.

Conversely, certain elections have actually benefited people's health. When certain individuals rise to power, it gives people hope, which improves overall health. “Campaigns that give voice to the disenfranchised have been shown to have positive but short-term effects on health,” Williams noted. “Such associations have been observed among black South Africans at the time of Nelson Mandela’s 1994 election, among black Americans during Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign, and among Hispanic and black Americans when Barack Obama was nominated for President in 2008.”

So how has Trump's victory affected the people who enthusiastically cast their votes for him? “Increases in psychological well-being, pride, and hope for the future are likely to be evident among Donald Trump supporters,” Williams wrote.

But, as dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health Sandro Galea noted,“even for those that feel ‘victorious’ in this election, when it comes to exclusionary policies, it’s going to hurt all of us.”