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As my readers know, one of my main concerns in helping us fight the stresses of living in the American city is the lack of attention paid to mental health, especially to two of its most distressing problems: anxiety and depression.
I’ve been thinking about it again this 4th of July as I continue to learn more about the misery at the border. I’ve been worrying not only about the obvious physical effects from the unhealthy conditions, but also about the PTSD that will likely affect every man, woman, and child going through this horrible experience, leaving them to face months or years of lingering anxiety and depression. As you may know, chronic stress of any kind often leads to anxiety and depression, but being traumatized for long periods almost guarantees this outcome. Tragically, prolonged anxiety and depression often contribute to continued and new physical illnesses, creating a painful and expensive cycle for victims and those caring for them.
Many kinds of stress and emotional abuse can lead to such prolonged mental suffering, and research shows in fact that depression is increasing throughout our country. This isn’t surprising given the current environment. While those at the border suffer both physically and mentally, many others of us watch with fear and horror King Trump’s destructive march through what’s left of many of our country’s goals and ideals. We see the end of being a respected leader on the world stage in peace, justice, and protecting the planet, and that we are no longer anywhere near the kind and generous example we used to be, or some of us thought we were, of welcoming the weary masses who yearn to be free. Even many non-Americans have begun to feel more stress as things deteriorate further with a Tweet or a dubious Executive Order.
No matter how Trump and his yes-people twist the words or the history, this generalized misery as well as that at the border was and is largely caused by their own self-interested actions. Before writing more about this I wanted to check my hunch that since the beginning of this Presidency Americans’ depression and anxiety has increased even more than what I’d already observed by just talking to people in the first few months. I searched online only for a few seconds, and no less than nine articles appeared on Trump’s negative effects on mental health.
I’ll get to those in a moment. Meanwhile it must be said there could be no better recipe for wrecking mental and physical health than the hell on earth going on at the border. Aside from the physical misery, those of us who have suffered from depression know that the new and acute depression that will result for many is itself its own hell on earth. This past weekend as we celebrated our freedoms including the right to pursuit of happiness, our desperate fellow-humans, already stressed beyond what most of us can imagine experiencing, continued to suffer. Continuing for them, for who knows how long–are the brutal effects of family separation, their loneliness for home, fears for the rest of their families and friends back home and fear of an unknown future, finding themselves living in cages and other jail-like containers, seeing their children ill with diseases that aren’t being treated, feeling looked down on or even hated by many people they now depend on for survival, being surrounded by filth they never would have lived with at home, and being emotionally and/or sexually or otherwise abused. Throw in constant doses of helplessness and hopelessness, and a US president lying to the world about how great things are for them, and you have a perfect storm for creating severe mental illness that can last for years.
I can’t imagine the founding fathers envisioned us causing such anguish in people begging for asylum. Few people can bear such multiple prolonged abuses without psychic damage. Depression by itself, without all the other problems, is torture enough. Psychiatric drugs take weeks to work, often don’t help at all, and many have awful side effects. Physical illness only makes depression worse, and depression makes physical illness worse. Add to these challenges increasing evidence that our culture is becoming more and more stressed, including increases in blatant hatred and hateful behavior, and you can see it will be more and more difficult, no matter who we are or where we came from, to recover from depression in our country, without some major changes at the border and in our way of life in general.
So we must help each other, our leaders must also help, and if they don’t help we must elect different leaders. Some of our leaders’ failures to call out hatred and its related crimes are reprehensible, but it’s not too late for them to begin to make amends. Among other things we need them to work with us to change this culture of prejudice and hate, and to change as well the money-and-success-over-all state of mind that seems so central to our society and that most of us feel somewhat forced into by the resulting rush-rush never-rest American lifestyle. As for the hate, it’s salt on the stressed-out lifestyle wounds, and because much of it has been taught to the haters I can only recommend they un-teach themselves if they’ve been so taught. If they stop and think for awhile about it, they hopefully will see it’s a much happier, healthier way for all of us to live.
We also need specific help from business leaders in altering those other stressful lifestyle practices, since all the stress and worry they contribute to not only make more of us sicker but also can make prejudice and violence more likely. If your life is filled with stress and you’re angry or upset a lot, maybe it feels easy to blame the person of another color or religion who works in your building or lives on your block. So business and government need to prioritize making everyone’s life less stressful. This is not impossible, as they seem to think. The idea of helping us by changing a few things that chronically stress us just isn’t at the top of their lists. For example they can help reduce noise and pollution in our lives, help us have more nature in our cities, and help us calm down about climate change by doing something about it and not lying and denying what science has proven. They can help us have more sense of community by encouraging the presence of friendly community meeting places, parks, and coffee shops. If we’re less isolated, meeting each other more than we do now, and making friends in our own communities, we’ll all be healthier both mentally and physically. Don’t leave it at the bottom of your lists, government and business. Do something.
These stresses and more (such as bad diet and too many guns) that they can help us decrease, have for now made our country a hard one to get well in or stay well in, especially if you’re traumatized, anxiety-ridden, and already chronically stressed ordepressed. A stunningly self-involved and ignorant administration doesn’t help. When it heaps more abuse on new refugees and continues to upset the rest of us with ignoring these known stressors, it only makes all of our stress worse. All stress-caused illness costs a great deal to treat, as do the addiction and even crimes it sometimes leads to, which I mention since so many of our business and government leaders are always thinking about profit.
To give you an idea of how the country’s mood is already being affected by the current leadership, here are a few quotes:
“While Trump supporters may have experienced a boost in ’psychological well-being, pride, and hope for the future,” in the words of the New England Journal of Medicine researchers, his presidency has been a pit of despair for others.’ ”
(from Pacific Standard, PSMAG.com, article by Jared Keller, Jan.15, 2019)
Referring to a phenomenon called “Trump Anxiety Disorder,” author Matt Kwong writes that therapist Elisabeth LaMott’s patients ask questions such as “Is he gonna blow us all up?” and many others tell her they suffer from fear of how dire Trump’s decisions may be for the world. She told Kwong, “There is a fear of the world ending. It’s very disorienting and constantly unsettling.”
(from CBC News, CBC.CA, Matt Kwong, July 18, 2018, “In a divided U.S., therapists treating anxiety are hearing the same name over and over: Donald Trump,”)
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank wrote that Trump is making us both crazy and ill, listing the many stress-caused symptoms people are feeling including his own increasing blood pressure since Trump became President. He references a paper by New York Analyst Matt Aibel that was to appear in the journal “Psychoanalytic Perspectives,” in which the analyst wrote that many mental health professionals are often using terms such as ”Trump Anxiety” and “Trump Affective Disorder.”
(Dana Milbank, Washington Post, Sept. 22nd, 2017, “President Trump is Actually Making us Crazy”)
In the blog Anxious Minds, Dr. David J. Leonard writes effectively and movingly of the PTSD and general anxiety, fear, and anguish being caused by Trump. The post’s title says it all: “A Culture of Depression; the Toxicity of Trump.” I recommend it, and it’s at his blog AnxiousMinds.org.
My Plan to Help at the Border:
Whatever your views are on our President or on our current society, you likely are among the many in this country who don’t want to see continued suffering at the border, so I hope you agree with my prescription below, or something close to it:
Trump must arrange to pay for the 3 to 5 years of mental health aid the border families or some members of them may likely need,and at least two years of housing, two years of healthy groceries (fresh organic fruits and vegetables, so they can recover from the damage caused by the chemical-filled nutrition-less processed foods fed to them at the border), a two-year stipend for other necessities, and jobs, plus job training if needed, so adults can work once they’re stabilized. Jobs assigned must not be ones that cause new or worse mental or physical health issues. All families must be reunited, all illnesses immediately treated, and all medical care paid for by the US. Endangered families and individuals must not be sent back home. US money and aid should be sent to each country from which suffering people are fleeing so that those places become healthy and safe to live in without terror. Finally, it would look really good and be even more healing if some of this money came directly out of Trump’s pocket.
When should this process begin? Today. The alternative, for those who let the suffering continue, is to be remembered by a great many people as bullies, cowards, and pathetic leaders who did nothing. There may be worse alternatives in store as well, such as going to jail, even if action is taken now, because so much damage has already been done.
Miserable, traumatized and frightened people can’t be very good citizens even if they try hard. We need to help them get on their feet. Jobs need to be done here, and these people need jobs. The whole country needs a mental health boost which it could be given right now if the government acted humanely and did so immediately. This right and good action might do a little to begin to redeem the current leadership’s reputation and to help heal the despair of so many Americans that’s been caused by Trump. I personally would love to see this administration redeem itself in these ways and in many other ways, because besides feeling newly stressed most days like so many other people are, due to the behavior of this President and those who go along with him, I’m also perpetually stunned and embarrassed by their cowardice and cruelty.