I am one of those people who attempted to (and probably failed at) ignoring the presidential race for much of 2016. The prospect of potentially having to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was grief inducing enough but to watch the campaign antics in real-time felt like a malignant form of self-harm.
However, now that Trump is the president-elect (a phrase I struggle with even typing at this moment), I – like many others – am forced to reckon with the realities before me. I have seen many people posting memes about drinking to cope with the election results or joking about starting nonprescription drugs to distract them from what is surely to come. And, while I – like so many others – have considered self-medicating as a way to cope, I am convinced that we must also be frank in this moment about the very real anxiety and fear this new political development brings on in an effort to move our collective grief toward collective action and healing.
For many of us, these times feel dire, hopeless, and filled with confusion and despair but this is also linked to our historical prevalence of mental health issues in the United States. In fact, in America, 1 in 5 adults (nearly 44 million people) experience mental health issues each year and approximately 10 million adults who experienced a substance use disorder also had a co-occurring mental health issue. Thus, the seriousness of the imminent risks to collective health is not to be understated.
In the days immediately following Trump’s election, news outlets everywhere began reporting on the uptick in calls to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. There were even reports of several deaths by suicide within the LGBTQIA+ communities. These groups already suffer disproportionately higher rates of death by suicide due to ongoing discrimination and isolation at home and in public spaces.
While the election of an openly misogynist, homophobic, and xenophobic administration has no doubt exacerbated the instances of mental health crises among many groups of people, this country’s longstanding stigmatization of mental health needs and psychological services has only worsened our present predicament. So, while the light-heartedness so many of us have expressed about turning to substances or other forms of self-harm and self-medicating is understandable, we must also confront the reality that our underlying battles with common issues like stress, depression, anxiety, and anxiousness portend a graver outcome than we might expect. To ignore these facts is to deny our own truths.
This is not a call for cleansing breaths and meditation circles (although those methods are necessary in many cases and work well for personal mental health maintenance). Rather, this is a message about accountability, vigilance, and self-assessment. Are we taking care of ourselves? Are we looking out for those around us? Have we reflected on the state of our mental health? Are we checking in with ourselves and others? Do we have accountability partners? How are we dealing with stress? Have we sought help if needed? These questions are critical.
We cannot control the actions of the soon-to-be inaugurated president. We have no say in how this country is run nor for whom it doles out “inalienable” rights. But, what we can, should, and must do is be gentle with ourselves and with those we care about. We must be honest about the feelings we are grappling with. We must preserve ourselves in this moment and those to come. That is the foremost priority now and always.
If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, here are a few resources:
Crisis Text Line: Text START to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis | http://www.crisistextline.org/
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 | http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
The Trevor Project’s suicide prevention guide: http://b.3cdn.net/trevor/ae0151279fe7898acd_22vm6o0uv.jpg
National Alliance on Mental Illness on LGBTQ Mental Health: https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ
HT: The Verge