Political upheaval has taken a toll on mental health

Kelly Feng, Opinion Editor

“What parents need to know about college students and depression” by the Mayo Clinic Health System found that up to 44% of college students report symptoms of depression and anxiety, with suicide being the third leading cause of death.

Droves of Americans, many college students, have reported that politics have taken a significant toll on a full range of health barometers, with the gamut running from stress, loss of sleep or suicidal thoughts to a hyper-focus on politics and a need and over engagement on social media.

An American Psychological Association survey showed that 70% of adults experienced high-stress levels leading up to the 2020 election.

Experts think the stress may last for quite a while. Are politics the tipping point in our mental health crisis, or do Americans have other issues?

According to John Boyne, a counselor at Madison College, there are many vectors to this mental health crisis. He doesn’t see politics as a specific issue, but another reason to create spoken and unspoken angst.

It’s the quicksand of several matters coming together.

“It’s a perfect storm. I would say social media [which] preceded COVID, but also Black Lives Matter and Trumpism and the kind of political turmoil you’re zeroing in on,” Boyne says.
The Madison College counselor believes all these issues have created a mental health challenge for people who might not otherwise have struggled psychologically.

Boyne says it’s not common for students to name politics as the primary source of their struggles. However, political upheaval on social media has added to the angst. He says the turmoil weaves its way into families, neighborhoods or friend groups where there are dichotomies and different opinions.

That especially creates turmoil in family dynamics.

“Uncle Joe is a Trumper, or a nephew is deep into protesting. That’s tearing some families apart for sure. That’s very high angst around that,” Boyne says.

Political differences have been around for decades, but social media has brought differing viewpoints to the forefront.

“It’s like fluoride in the water. It seeps in, but often they’re not fully aware,” Boyne says.

Whether a student is aware or unaware of the adverse effects of social media, it’s clear that they’re overly engaged. Boyne has observed that, separate from political turmoil and independent of COVID-19, high engagement on social media negatively affects mood and health.

“Issues around comparison. Issues around social isolation— in the midst of observing all this other socializing, are depicted in this refined way. How people cherry-pick their life and post it on social media,” Boyne adds.

Some of that over engagement came pre-pandemic and pre-Trump.

“It’s obvious now that it has a deleterious effect on mental health, especially for young people,” Boyne suggests. “Then you add the strife of political discord into that, and it becomes explosive.”

It’s hard not to see the irony of social media.

“There’s the feedback loop there where it’s sort of rather than bringing people together, which was the original promise of something like Facebook. It makes people hyper-partisan. It’s a digital acceleration.”

While there is a six to eight-week waiting list at many colleges and private clinics, Madison College doesn’t have a waiting list, with the college providing same-day services for those in emergency need.

If you’re a student with a specific need, like wanting to speak with a counselor of a particular ethnic background or demographic, it’s possible to have a week to a 10 day wait.

Students can be served within minutes, the same day or a day or two later. To learn about Madison College’s counseling services, visit: https://madisoncollege.edu/student-experience/support/mental-health-counseling.