It’s not only physical health that’s been decimated in the Dark Age of Trump
I know a lot about depression, not because I’m a doctor or therapist (I am not) but because I’ve struggled with it myself for some time. I know about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the same reason. Not every depression is caused by PTSD but mine was, and from what I can tell, many of the country’s increasing mental health problems are occurring due not only to PTSD from this horrible and painful virus, but to the pandemic’s side effects of sudden grief, loneliness, job loss, hunger, and fear. We’re also stressed by anxiety about what seems an insecure future caused by the attitudes and actions of our cruel and self-serving president.
Research shows that Americans’ rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or attempts were increasing even before Trump took office, but Trump, surely one of the most toxic presidents in our history, has made our load of chronic stress so much greater that the CDC reports these mental health problems are increasing to even higher levels than before, for many people of different ages and professions, including 25% of young adults who have considered suicide during the pandemic.
US News and World Report tells us U.S. adults reported much-elevated adverse mental health conditions connected with the virus, and “younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.” The article added that anxiety symptoms were approximately three times those reported during the same time period last year.
This news didn’t surprise me, since for months before the pandemic many friends had told me they couldn’t sleep, and often felt anxious, angry, and frustrated, all because of Trump’s wanton decimation of much in our country they’d respected and thought was sacrosanct. It all was made harder to bear because they felt they had little power to stop him.
Add a pandemic and Trump’s consistently incompetent and uncaring management of it and you’ve got a perfect storm for PTSD, or at least lots of stress, anxiety, and depression. For those who don’t understand much about depression, it causes great suffering in the victim and in family members, in extreme cases makes holding down a job nearly impossible, can lead to heart disease, and can feel like a nightmarishly gloomy altered reality. It so crushes some people they can’t even swallow food. Its final result for some, if not successfully treated –and it can be very hard to treat–is suicide.
One of the best ways to traumatize people is to tyrannize, frighten, or threaten them, especially if they have little or no power to fight back. While reeling from the pandemic itself, most Americans watch in horror Trump’s destruction and rollbacks of rules and laws they thought would help keep them and their environment healthier for years to come. As early as September 2017 the site Quartz reported Trump was “systematically dismantling consumer, labor, and environmental protections, as well as de-funding studies that might make the case for new rules.” In July of that year the administration said it planned to suspend, discontinue, or change 860 rules and regulations, many of which were proposed at the tail-end of Barack Obama’s presidency. It cut rules that would make manual labor safer, “while undercutting those aimed at increasing wages and benefits for the less wealthy.” Trump also made it easier to pay women and minorities less, freezing the “EEO-1 pay data collection rule that August, which required businesses with more than 100 employees to report pay data by gender and race.”
I’m not sure at this writing how many of those changes stuck, or if they all occurred, but living with his constant attempts and threats to assail rules and laws we’d found reassuring only adds more to Americans’ chronic stress.
Other stressful changes include his destroying or degrading alliances with other countries, and his packing the courts, White House, and government agencies with people sympathetic to his frightening causes and beliefs. We see him promote crazy conspiracies that only cause more chaos, hatred, fear, and death, hear his rampant misogyny and racism, and see his open nose-thumbing at fair elections as he admits (with what seems like almost demonic pleasure) that he won’t give the Post Office funds it needs to process mail-in ballots properly. (Someone please tell me why this is not a criminal offense.) He gleefully strips away, often quietly when we’re not looking, protections from global warming and other environmental assaults, only to announce the changes later, apparently enjoying the shock and sadness he’s caused.
Along with the cruelty of his messages and methods, some of us who have experienced mental anguish at the hands of others recognize his behavior as what it also is: emotional abuse. Just as childhood bullies seem to enjoy the stress they cause their victims, and some people have a pathological need to cause suffering in a person or animal who can’t fight back, Trump abuses the American people (except for his base) and seems to like doing it. And just as victims who cannot fight off their abusers feel helpless and hopeless, our inability to stop Trump makes us feel the same.
We may become chronically depressed if we don’t see any help coming, for example from more Republicans who could and should speak up. Mostly they have not, and Democrats who have tried to help are often unable to get very far. So we continue to watch as more lies and destruction occur, when what we desperately need is truth, empathy, thoughtful leadership, and a feeling of closeness to our fellow citizens and with the world rather than increasing separation from them. Such sense of community and cooperation is a hallmark of societies that experience good mental health.
Given all this destruction and despair, how could the country’s mental health not be plummeting?
We are of course not alone. There is always tragedy somewhere in the world, but good leadership makes all the difference. As mental health experts are surely finding in Beirut while it reels from its deadly explosion, shock and grief will fuel new cases of PTSD there that may last many years, especially since the accident came on top of pandemic-caused suffering. But not all tragedies are necessary, and in this case a corrupt president and government had already caused crushing poverty. If the leaders had possessed an iota of empathy, they would have protected the people from the danger of an explosion in that location long ago.
Similarly, in the United States a caring president could have prevented many thousands of virus deaths and untold suffering. Instead, his cruelty and incompetence caused those unnecessary deaths, and grief and loss beyond measure.
We are now at a crossroads. The wrong decision will harm not just our country but the planet. If we don’t remove this monstrously inhumane person from the White House, our future will be grim.
But we have two rays of hope: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They represent all that is light in this horrendous period of gloom. Just the sight of them glowing during their first appearance together after Biden chose Harris inspired and uplifted people around the world. It even helped me to be able to fall asleep after I learned of the Primary win of a scary racist QAnon-believer who may soon bring her hatred and lies to a Congress near you (with the help and encouragement of Trump).
But Biden and Harris have a tough road ahead because it will be extremely difficult to fight conspiracies, corruption, greed, interference by Trump’s pal and fellow dictator Putin, and all those yes-people Trump hires to do whatever, corrupt or not, to savage the other side.
So I want to propose, for everyone who like me can no longer sleep at night, that we all work our tails off to get Biden and Harris elected.
To that end I wanted to find the best way I could to feel confident donating time or money to help. I didn’t know much about election pacs and funding, and wasn’t sure if I should contribute to a group like Black Lives Matter, or a particular Democratic group or anti-Trump Republican group, or elsewhere.
I asked Brendan Quinn, Outreach Manager at the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics to advise me. He told me about various types of groups people donate to, which you can learn about at the Center’s site. In the end, he said for someone like me without huge amounts of money to give, “The most effective way to support any candidate is going to be a direct contribution to their campaign.” So that’s where I’ll contribute, and after the election will give to other organizations.*
So please help Biden and Harris win so we can start to heal both physically and mentally. And, as they request, please wear a mask, social distance, avoid big gatherings, and wash your hands often. If we work together on this for just a while more, we can protect not only ourselves and those we love, but also medical personnel and all others who endanger themselves in order to help us.
*Brendan Quinn says if you do want to give to an outside group not directly affiliated with a candidate, you’ll want to do some research to make sure it’s actually spending money on things you support. You can check out such groups at the Center, as long as you’re looking at those spending at the federal level. It doesn’t deal with state-level matters such as governor’s races.