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Are Politics Influencing Your Mental Health?

Research suggests political strife could be affecting your state of mind.

When it comes to your mental health, several factors can impact how you think and feel. It might be surprising, though, to discover how politics can play a major role. A study sponsored by Cyber Florida USF found that 64% of respondents claimed politics is at least a minor source of stress, while 18% said it is a major stressor. As we near the 2024 election, the stress meter rises to higher levels than during non-election years, with more people finding themselves drawn into the political arena and discussions around hot topic issues.

Politics and Mental Health

“A full 40 percent of Americans identify politics as a significant source of stress in their lives, and about 5 percent have actually considered suicide in response to political developments,” Newport Institute wrote on its website. Political strife can affect people in several ways, such as damaging relationships and disrupting self-care. PLOS ONE, a self-styled “journal community” for scientific research, surveyed more than 800 people on how politics affect their mental and physical health. Here are a few findings:

  • More than 25% felt depressed when their candidate lost an election.
  • One in five lost sleep over politics.
  • 20% reported feeling fatigued because of political news.
  • 29% lost their tempers over politics.
  • One-quarter claimed to have feelings of hatred toward those with opposing views.
  • More than 20% said political disagreements damaged their friendships.

USF corroborated these findings with its poll that found 31% of survey takers had political conflicts with friends and 33% had issues with family members. Furthermore, 31% admitted they’d lost their tempers over politics within the last month. Jennifer Dragonette, PsyD, clinical services instructor for Newport Institute, suggests the intensity of individual, political, and social stress over the past two-plus years has taxed our resilience like never before.

The Institute for Policy Research (IPR) opined that ignoring Americans’ decline in mental health could put democracy at risk. Research from the organization showed that the nation’s mental health has been in decline since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, when people were forced to isolate, endure economic woes, and suffer through years of uncertainty. Four out of ten adults experienced high levels of psychological distress during that period. “At the same time, polarization and division among Americans is on the rise, causing concern about the state of American democracy,” the institute suggested.

James Druckman, the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR associate director and fellow, made a similar observation. “First and foremost, you want to think about the public health and the toxic consequences for the people that are suffering from depression,” he said. “I do think that there are clear political ramifications in terms of the quality of democracy.” Druckman elaborates:

“I think when you see an uptick in depression, to the extent that we’ve seen, that is a sign that democracy is not operating at the quality that one would want from a normal perspective.

“There is a lot of concern about political extremism at present and when a population is suffering from poor mental health, no one should be surprised that people make extremist choices that they otherwise may not make.”

All is not lost, though. The American Psychological Association (APA), while agreeing that politics can negatively influence mental health, acknowledges the opposite position. “The stress of following daily political news can negatively affect people’s mental health and well-being, but disengaging has ramifications, too,” APA wrote.

Brett Q. Ford, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, told APA, “When it comes to politics, there can be a trade-off between feeling good and doing good.” He added, “Protecting oneself from the stress of politics might help promote well-being but it also comes at a cost to staying engaged and active in democracy.”

However, when people are immersed in politics, they tend to be more proactive, supporting their causes, voting, and volunteering. While focusing on political campaigns can add stress, it can also be a catalyst to motivate people to participate more in their communities. It seems that politics, even when it comes to maintaining good mental health, can be a double-edged sword.

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