Don't Stigmatize Emotional Reactions to the US Election
Watching social media on the US election night last week left me with a feeling of dread and it's important not to stigmatize that type of emotional reaction to the US election. The heaviness of people’s words and the fears they expressed post after post was palpable through the screen. I hadn’t searched for the negative; I simply clicked on the trending hashtags #USElection2016 and #ElectionNight. The posts the next morning after Donald Trump’s victory was much the same. But US election emotions shouldn't be stigmatized.
This might not seem to have to do much with mental health or stigma at first glance. However, I saw a wave of anxious posts throughout the mental health community in the days up to and following the election results. And I started to notice the stigma, too.
US Election Is Causing Some to Stigmatize Emotional Reactions
The results from the election brought on a plethora of reactions and emotions. People around the world shared their fears and their upset—how the election had affected them negatively. It’s an honest, valid response to the news they heard. Posts started popping up, however, that in my mind were out to invalidate them.
One I saw said, among other things,
In a race that had so much to say about empowering women, to now see women crumbling and crying over democracy in action seems counterintuitive.
Model strength and model humility. Model appropriate disappointment and then model action.
To me, this isn’t a call to action, but rather someone saying to be upset is the opposite of empowerment -- to be upset is to be weak. I’ll admit, it’s one of the first times I’ve seen it directed at women (usually men get the brunt end of this kind of talk), but it’s still the same message.
And what does “appropriate disappointment” even mean?
People are allowed to be upset about the results. Let us have our moment to deal with the emotions we’re experiencing. I agree, we shouldn’t be sore losers about it because it is what it is, but being upset about something isn’t being a sore loser.
Many women have been feeling anxious because of things that were said in the election; and considering 1-in-5 people deal with mental illness, a percentage of those people will also be dealing with not just usual anxiety, but anxiety disorder levels of anxiety. To tell them they are reacting badly is to stigmatize them.
Which leads me to another post, or rather a comment I received.
US Election's Emotional Reaction Stigma in the Mental Health Community
I had posted a message of support via a mental health organization I volunteer with, inviting people to reach out if they needed someone to talk to. This organization deals with the body-focused repetitive behavior community (BFRBs are disorders like skin picking and hair pulling). I had seen numerous posts, too many to count, expressing how someone’s skin picking or hair pulling had increased with the anxiety of the election, and I wanted to let the community know if they needed someone, we were there for them.
I received a couple replies to this post saying, effectively, the election shouldn’t be an excuse for increased urges to pick or pull and we’re only negatively impacted by something if we allow ourselves to be.
While there is some truth to saying we’re only as impacted as we allow ourselves to be, mental health isn’t so easily controlled. BFRBs feed off of anxiety for many of us, so in a situation in which we’ve become hyper-anxious, it makes sense to spin a little out of control. Suggesting someone has allowed themselves to be so harshly impacted is victim blaming and stigmatizing.
How to Help Those Struggling with Negative Emotions as a Result of the US Election
Instead of telling people that they’re dealing with this news wrongly and stigmatizing emotional reactions to the US election, we should be letting each other know we’re here if they need support. No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, we are all still human beings and we need to first acknowledge each other as that. You may not understand why someone is so negatively affected by the result of an election, but the reality is many people are, and telling them they’re wrong doesn’t change that, but rather makes them feel worse. Let’s do what we can to avoid that.
Barton, L. (2016, November 13). Don't Stigmatize Emotional Reactions to the US Election, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 18 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2016/11/stigmatizing-negative-reactions-isnt-helpful
Author: Laura Barton
When my 34 year old daughter called me after the election to tell me she felt "stupid" because of her sadness about the election, I asked her why. She is a school teacher. She told me that during her free hour the day after the election, she locked her classroom door and just cried. She told me she was afraid someone would knock on her door and she would be found out. I told her NOT to lock her emotions inside of herself, it was so important to let them out. I told her I had cried also and so had her Dad. I encouraged her, telling her she was NOT stupid, she was human and had just suffered a great shock and disappointment. I also told her that I bet there were many teachers in her school who felt the same way, but didn't get themselves the opportunity of letting those toxic emotions to come forward and escape as much as they could. We agreed that her Dad and I would be her support system. Any time she felt like talking, crying, venting or was just plain scared, we were a quick phone call away. She has called us several times since then and each time we have encouraged her to call, no matter how "stupid" she thought her feelings were...they were NOT "stupid". they were human and authentic.