How Trump Is Creating A Mental Health Crisis

by Gina M. Florio

No matter what demographic you fall into, there's a good chance this presidential election is stressing you out. A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association in October showed that 52 percent of Americans say that the election is "a very or somewhat significant" source of stress in their lives. Fifty-six percent of millennials say the same, as do 45 percent of Gen Xers. The story seems to be the same across party lines as well — 59 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats are dealing with election-related stress.

But for most of us, it is the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president that appears to be the most stressful factor of all. According to a poll conducted by Washington Post/ABC News, 69 percent of Americans report feeling anxious about the possibility of Trump being President of the United States. More than half say the concept of "President Trump" makes them "very anxious," while 18 percent claim it makes them "somewhat anxious."

K.E., a female 27-year-old doctoral student, tells Bustle that "basically everything [Trump] has done" has stressed her out so far. The anxiety has become so potent that she sometimes takes additional doses of her medication to help her feel more at ease. "I am worried about the domestic and global consequences of [Trump's] potential presidency," she says. "I am worried that just his running may be a thing we, as a nation, may be waiting a very long time to recover from."

In other words, the pie chart below may be satirical, but it holds a lot of truth.

Looking at Trump's behavior this past year, it's not surprising so many of us are feeling the tension so fervently. His bigoted, racist, and sexist comments have either offended or infuriated many, and it's all been so impactful that some mental health professionals are even uniting to raise awareness about the damage he's causing our country — and the potential mental health crisis he's evoking.

Bill Doherty, a therapist and professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, has even created an online manifesto called Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism. More than 2,400 mental health specialists have signed, insisting it's their responsibility to speak up about Trumpism, which Doherty defines as "a political ideology and public stance that is characterized by a strong-man approach." He and the other mental health professionals who've signed believe Trump is undermining public mental health, as well as our democracy.

"People with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime," Amesbury says. "He speaks as if people with mental illness should be feared, and in fact, they need to be protected."

If that seems like an overreaction, just take this as evidence: Trump told a crowd of veterans in October that individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) simply weren't "strong" enough and "can't handle" the things they've experienced. Prior to that, when he spoke about gun violence in a debate, he insisted on keeping firearms out of the hands of "sickos," simultaneously advocating for "sane people" to still have access to guns. "This isn't a gun problem. This is a mental problem," he declared.

In other words, if you suffer from a mental illness, you're dangerous and likely to commit a violent crime. Bustle spoke with Nicole Amesbury, LMHC and Head of Clinical Development at Talkspace, an online therapy service, who is quick to point out how inaccurate this notion is. On the contrary, only 3 to 5 percent of violent crimes are linked to people with a mental illness.

"People with mental illness are 10 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime," Amesbury says. "He speaks as if people with mental illness should be feared, and in fact, they need to be protected." Amesbury says this worsens the stigma around mental illness in a profound way, and it's a cause for concern. Every time Trump misspeaks of mental illness in this way, he potentially harms many people across America and influences the way our whole country thinks about and treats mental illness.

Jodi Aman, a psychotherapist with more than two decades of experience and the author of You 1 Anxiety 0 , tells Bustle that spouting incorrect definitions or theories about mental illness can have a significant impact on those who battle the disease. "People have all different understandings of mental illness," she says. "Everyone thinks their opinion is correct, but they are so incredibly varied, and this hurts and confuses a lot of people."

Trump also makes matters much worse with his aggressive attacks on mentally-ill individuals. He habitually puts people down who are struggling with diseases like depression, and he often uses words like "crazy" and "dumb" in the same sentence as "mental breakdown." Without hesitation, he freely grants people nicknames like "nutjob," "basket case," and "unstable" when trying to explain any kind of abnormal behavior. Anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness knows how hurtful these names can be, and how much they diminish the very real, very physical struggle that comes along with fighting a disease like clinical depression.

Aman is also concerned that this type of belligerent dialogue (not to mention, leaked tapes bragging about sexual assault) is triggering people who have experienced trauma in the past. All the name-calling and bullying brings up memories of how they have been treated in the past, while also making them nervous about how they may be treated cruelly again in the future.

"Especially women with PTSD with past abuse have been really triggered by what is being shared. They are having panic attacks and flashbacks on the account of watching speeches and news commentaries," Aman says. "They are frustrated, hurt, and anxious. ... It is as if their abuser is running for president, and that is the most subjugating thing they can imagine."

Election-related anxiety stems from more than Trump's heinous comments, though. Witnessing how vicious Trump supporters can be has shaken everyone to their core, igniting new waves of stress and anxiety. Earlier this year, video footage of a black protestor being physically assaulted by a white Trump advocate was enough to make thousands of people of color feel unsafe in their own country. They dreaded what might happen on a more regular basis if if Trump were elected as our nation's leader. Amesbury worries that Trump's verbally-abusive speech, whether it's in reference to mentally-ill individuals, women, or immigrants, has the power to "incite violence" in other people, particularly his supporters.

People are even distressed about how Trump's followers may react if he doesn't win the presidency, since he's made it clear that he finds the election results invalid if he loses. Andrew Brown, 27, a software engineer in San Francisco, tells Bustle he's nervous that "[Trump's] supporters may revolt to protest the results." The violence Trump's camp has displayed thus far makes many people fear for the general safety of the country, particularly those who are in a minority group.

Clearly, Americans feel like there's a lot to worry about. For those who are battling a mental illness, though, the burden can feel immensely difficult to bear. Amesbury reminds us that the state of mental health care in this country currently isn't up to snuff. "People are not getting the care they need desperately, health care workers are underpaid, and we have a suicide rate that is increasing," she says, so we're way past the point of rolling our eyes at what Trump says and writing it off as silly rants. We need to consider the adverse effect his role in American politics is going to have on mentally-ill individuals everywhere.

If any of this sounds familiar, and you're feeling particularly anxious about this election and worried about the mental health crisis Trump is fostering, remember that anxiety can be useful if harnessed correctly. Amesbury tells Bustle it can motivate us to step forward and evoke change. Perhaps the most obvious way to declare your freedom and speak up against Trump's harmful ways is to vote. Get involved. Use your voice. Every bit of participation counts in the effort to keep the citizens of our country healthy and happy.

Images: Bustle