OPINION: Electoral stress negatively affects our mental health

Our stressful election did a real number on the mental health of all Americans

Election+stress+is+mentally+taxing%2C+but+we+can+work+past+it+moving+forward.

LAUREN PETTIT

Election stress is mentally taxing, but we can work past it moving forward.

MEGHAN HENRY, Evergreen columnist

As the election drew near over the last few weeks, a record number of Americans were doing their due diligence to fill out their ballots. Newscasts were watched, articles were read — all in preparation for the election of the 46th President of the United States.

Though the historic number of votes cast this year is an incredible feat — considering the pandemic — what can’t be so easily tracked is the toll this election had on Americans’ mental health.

For many, the waiting and watching didn’t begin on election night, and it won’t end on Inauguration Day in January. Politics weigh heavily on the minds of all Americans, and its effects on our well-being cannot be ignored.

A large number of WSU students participated in an election for the first time this year. For others, it was the first in which we really felt we had something at stake. Nov. 3 was not the one monumental day — it was the weeks and months leading up to it that really mattered. Suddenly we were all paying attention.

“I was extremely invested [in the election] this year,” Paige Adrian, junior English major, said. “At the same time, I was really still confused … because there was so much going on in the world.”

For many, the weight of it all began to take hold this summer when the Black Lives Matter movement came out in full force.

Defending the tragic, public murder of George Floyd, were voices like Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, Terrence Floyd and Tamika Palmer who were broadcasted around the world. Marches were organized, long-ignored stories were shared and calls for change were made.

In the middle of a pandemic, in the most important moments of an election year, the words of the families who had lost family and friends to police violence finally could not be ignored. Students across the country saw this, too.

“It was interesting to be a criminal justice student at that time when a lot of [politics] has to do with aspects that are very important with criminal justice,” Jenna Chandler, junior criminal justice and criminology major, said. “Talking about racial equity, systemic racism and that kind of thing.”

Students were able to see not only their education but their discovery of their political priorities taking form in the actions of candidates’ reactions to real-world events. The conversations about their impacts were had in a personal way, too.

“[The election] was definitely more of a topic of discussion within my friend group, so it just came up more, I was invested more, I looked up more things and just educated myself more than I did for the last [election],” Madison Hart, senior interior design major, said.

These conversations with family members and friends were sometimes tough, but in many instances, they educated both sides on the stance of the other political party. It brought a bit of humanity back into politics when our politicians were drowning each other out.

In the dreadful silence of personal jabs and irrelevant tangents, Americans bridged the gap by asking hard questions and doing what they could to keep themselves both educated and healthy.

For some, that meant simply separating themselves from people who did not agree with their points of view.

“Your vote, your opinion matters. That’s the whole point of democracy,” Katelyn Deal, sophomore English education major, said. “There isn’t one “right” option … but the people who I surround myself with mostly think the same. If they don’t, I’ll be civil with them, but I don’t plan on having a conversation about it every day. So [the election] was kind of freeing for me.”

Simply put, the polarization of the country during this process also allowed some of us to see each other’s true colors. What we did with that knowledge was, as always, our own choice. For Deal, it was an empowering moment to truly be able to choose the people she wanted to surround herself with.

“Stress was accumulated in one area of my brain, but my mental health in another part of my brain was eased because I knew, ‘I can talk freely to this person,’” Deal said.

As students like Deal educated themselves and began to establish their sense of political beliefs, they grew confident in their relationships and setting boundaries with people they did not agree with.

“It’s frustrating to have that understanding and that knowledge because of my education, but also having to recognize that sometimes … people have a different stance, not because of who they are as a person,” Chandler said. “Sometimes it is because of a lack of education.”

The biggest issue many people faced during this election was experiencing the aftermath of war-like conversation about politics in their own homes. It weighed on their hearts and impacted their mental health. We don’t realize how imperative our political representatives are until we learn a valuable lesson. It is a privileged choice to vote for the candidate that represents policies that better the lives of the already-privileged, rather than equalizing issues to make room for more prosperity.

Hart told a personal story about an experience with a friend who, when visiting, was unable to really connect with Hart because of their differing views.

“It was personally very hard for me,” Hart said. “I don’t really care what anyone believes. I’ll still be friends with them. So it was hard to not get that reciprocated.”

It is a clarifying thing to discover: the harder we work to learn about the ramifications of one election, the harder it is to ignore the impact of politics on everyday interactions.

“I think that [for those who disagree with me], a lot of these issues are political, whereas, for me, it’s more a matter of morality … it’s not something I can just sweep under the rug and disregard … I have to keep talking about it because uncomfortable conversations are where growth occurs,” Chandler said. “It’s tough, and it definitely put a strain on my mental health, but it was worth it.”

As students on the frontlines gaining knowledge, it can be exhausting to carry the weight of educating the people around us. However, that is how we make systemic change.

By shouldering some of the responsibility, stepping up and sharing what we’ve learned. Those who have worked for incredible organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union for decades cannot do it alone — though they have for far too long.

As I have seen everywhere across social media since President-Elect Biden was announced as the victor: the fight is not over yet.

So take care of yourselves, know that this work is the most important work we might ever do in our lives and keep moving forward. It’s not just about ourselves. It’s a whole nation that we’re fighting for.