SPRINGFIELD — This year’s election season may extend beyond Nov. 3 due to an increased number of individuals voting by mail and an increasingly polarized political atmosphere. As such, Mental Health Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties (MHRB) is encouraging community members to be proactive about finding mental health support and developing self-care strategies to cope with election stress and uncertainty.
Election season is typically a stressful time in American culture, but as political battles become more contentious, so too do personal relationships. One therapist experienced such high numbers of clients coming in for election-related stress or relationship issues tied to the election in 2016 that he started describing the trend as “election stress disorder.” Those clients certainly aren’t alone; nationally, the American Psychological Association found that 52 percent of Americans spanning both sides of the political aisle considered the election a “very or somewhat significant” source of stress in their lives.
Similar trends are arising locally, as MHRB reports its Clark Greene Madison Warmline received calls related to political stress.
“MHRB is committed to helping everybody and every family find the care they need, and especially during this time. We all believed the pandemic and the election would have definitive conclusions, but we may have to cope with more long-term uncertainty than anticipated,” said Dr. Greta Mayer, CEO of MHRB. “This is why it is critical to build up long-term mental health habits and support networks to promote resilient families and communities.”
Mayer advises anyone feeling symptoms of increased stress, such as loss of sleep, loss of appetite, shorter tempers or increased aggressiveness, or difficulty maintaining social contact or personal relationships due to the election, to explore simple lifestyle changes:
1. Focus on your health first. Ensure you’re eating, exercising and sleeping enough on a regular schedule. If you haven’t already, establish a relationship with a mental health specialist.
2. Set boundaries with loved ones who use polarizing rhetoric. Don’t hesitate to ask friends and family to refrain from discussing politics around you. If getting involved reduces stress, engage in meaningful activism. Seek people who will encourage you to discuss the issues that are important to you.
3. Set boundaries for the news, too. It’s important to stay informed, but more than 15-20 minutes of browsing headlines may lead to more harm than good. Set limits on how much time you spend consuming news or browse social media using your phone’s settings or with an alarm.
4. Make a plan to vote. When faced with overwhelming choices or situations, it’s important to focus on what you CAN do — and that might mean getting to the polls and doing your part.
5. Keep things in perspective. Regardless of whether results are in on election night, nothing is going to change overnight, so focus on taking care of yourself and your family.
6. Utilize local mental health resources as often as needed. This includes calling local or national warmlines and crisis lines or locating services via the MHRB website.
“Anyone feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious about these upcoming weeks is not alone,” Mayer emphasized. “It’s important to remember that regardless of the outcome, we’re in it together — as a country and as a community — and to focus on the actions that are within our control. We all can take actions like doing our civic duty by voting, being kind to our neighbors and to ourselves, and taking care of our mental health.”
MHRB provides a variety of free mental health support. They include:
• Clark Greene Madison Warmline — Dial 937-662-9080 any time
• Responder Resilience Program — Front-line workers can call 937-727-4097 to be discreetly connected to three free trauma-informed sessions
• Suicide Prevention Awareness Month digital toolkit — Visit MHRB.org to download
If you are in crisis and need immediate mental health support, call the free National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. In the event of an emergency, always call 911.
For more information about mental health and substance use resources in Clark, Greene and Madison counties, please visit the MHRB website at www.mhrb.org.