Therapists Across The Country Found One Thing That United All Americans This Week

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
No matter how you feel about this week’s outcome, we can all agree that this garbage-fire election cycle has been hell for our spirits — and, unlike previous elections, the end of it early Wednesday morning did very little to quell the tide of divisiveness, anger, and negativity that has come to define it. In fact, according to therapists and mental-healthcare providers across the country, it may have only heightened it. On one hand, those who are unhappy about the result are not only feeling disappointment, but grief. “[The election] was definitely more intense this time. I’ve never felt it more powerfully in my career,” says Samantha Boardman, MD, a psychiatrist who sees patients in New York City, who says she received an increase in calls for help from her patients this week. “The shock amplified it for my patients. It was so unexpected.” Even for those who wanted a Trump victory, it hasn’t been quite the celebration of years past.
“My republican clients are coming in relieved, for sure,” explains Marcia Norman, PsyD, who counsels patients in Orlando, FL. “The mood is somber here. People have said they’re not looking forward to Thanksgiving. It’s almost like a social civil war. It’s so divisive. I think we all need to take a huge, deep breath, step away, and focus on ourselves.” Speaking from Austin, TX, Jamie Justus, LCSW, adds that while she hasn’t seen an increase in calls for help, “What I have noticed this week is that every single client is talking about a single event and that has never happened before,” Justus says. “I think there’s been a lot more uncertainty this time. Trump was such a surprising candidate, generally, and with uncertainty comes an uptick in anxiety.” "I haven’t seen too much celebration. At the end of the day, it’s half and half in Arizona and we still interact with one another on a daily basis," says Stefanie Sichler, MC, a family and trauma therapist in Tempe, AZ. "One of the big impacts I'm seeing is that, whatever side you may have been on, so many people feel like they’re not being heard." More than anyone, people in marginalized groups, such as Muslim-Americans, immigrants, women (especially those who are sexual assault survivors), and others who felt targeted by the president-elect with divisive and offensive rhetoric during the election cycle are suffering, says Farha Abbasi, MD, a staff psychiatrist at Michigan State University and the managing editor of the Journal of Muslim Mental Health. “What usually happens is things seem to cool down and calm down [following an election], but in this election, we feel like there is a fanning of the flames. As a mental-health provider that’s really concerning for me,” she says, adding that multiple reports of harassment against minority groups are understandably making it worse. “What we are seeing is that people are feeling that bad behavior has been rewarded and that permission has been given to hurt people. Especially if you look at minorities: [it feels] like you are reduced to political jargon or a political tool.”

This level of negativity is not only unprecedented, it’s toxic to our health and the health of our country, which, at the very least, is something we can all agree on.

In addition to dominating everyone’s therapy sessions this week, the election’s outcome even caused a surge in calls to crisis hotlines. On the Monday before the election, calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline were 30% higher compared to what the experts there normally anticipate for Mondays, says John Draper, PhD, project director of the hotline. Between the hours of 1 and 2 a.m., the number of calls more than doubled (surging 140%) beyond what’s expected for that time period. This is not typical, even for election nights, which are always on some level stressful and uncertain. “The only other case we where we’ve seen an increase like this is when Robin Williams died by suicide,” Dr. Draper says. “And at the time, the media was publicizing the phone number a lot, because there was a lot of coverage of his death. In this case, it was people actually seeking out the number.” This level of negativity is not only unprecedented, it’s toxic to our health and the health of our country, which, at the very least, is something we can all agree on. So in response, all of the mental-health experts we talked to this week are urging their patients to take the time they need away from the election — and social media. “Part of the problem is how plugged in we are now. People are experiencing more difficulty getting away and compartmentalizing,” Justus says, adding that this has been true throughout this election cycle. We also need to remember that help is there for us when we need it. Dr. Draper, from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, adds that community events like this are not usually the only thing going wrong when we feel in crisis or overwhelmed; instead, these events tend to aggravate something, such as a fear or anxiety that is already there, making it very important to reach out to our therapists, clergy leaders, and loved ones at times like this. “This election has left deep scars, not only on the psyche and mental health of individuals, but on society,” Dr. Abbasi adds. “The responsibility definitely relies with people in positions of authority. But we need to have more community conversations where two sides can come together. To me, America is ‘out of many, we are one.’ And here, we are seeing that the ‘one’ is being fragmented.” Dr. Abbasi’s advice for all of us? In addition to standing up for everyone’s civil rights, we must “show love and respect. Try and understand the fear. I do believe that it is fear working on both ends. It’s important to go beyond that fear, but that can only happen if we stop talking about each other and talk to each other.”

If you are thinking about suicide or are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

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