In the aftermath of the 2016 election, many Americans reported elevated levels of stress, which some labeled ‘post election stress disorder.’
A number of psychologists jumped on board with the term, and affirmed that their clients were unusually tense, but others clapped back, saying that to call this stress a ‘disorder’ was to trivialize PTSD.
Now, a new study attempts to parse out who was really pushed to an emotional brink by the election, and whose stress was more closely akin to political outrage.
Researchers from Stanford University and Microsoft analyzed post-election searchers for mental health assistance and found that while Democrats’ stress levels didn’t rise to a mental health issue, Latinos’ did.
Many Americans reported that their mental health suffered after Donald Trump’s 2016 election. New research on online search data suggests it was ‘real’ for Latinos – but that Democrats did not seek out any more information on depression, anxiety or therapy
Research has shown that violence spiked in cities that had hosted campaign rallies on behalf of Trump, while others studies showed an increase in women choosing long-lasting birth control following his promises to appeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which could affect access to shorter-acting contraceptives.
Meanwhile, the economy surged on the heels of Trump’s promises to make the best deals.
Amongst it all, reports of crippling anxiety, news fatigue, emotional eating to cope, and ‘post election stress disorder’ abounded.
‘Distress’ is much harder to measure than other aspects of society after an election, such as concrete data on the economy, rates of violent assaults, and birth control choices.
Dr Jennifer Sweeton wrote a Psychology Today article describing ‘post-election stress disorder’ and CNN and Kaiser Health News reported that the number of people making appointments with the only therapy platform Talkspace tripled post-election.
Some suggested that they were seeing this distress in clients of all political affiliations.
But – as even Dr Sweeton notes – post-election stress disorder is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, psychologists laundry list of mental conditions.
The team of collaborators from Microsoft and Stanford went a step further, and questioned whether the the increase in mental distress Americans were reporting – both anecdotally on social media and in surveys was purely psychological or perhaps a form of political speech.
Specifically, they wondered this about ‘Democrats and Spanish-speaking Latinos.’
They compared over one million Bing searches for mental health assistance from before and after the election made by Democrats as compared to Republicans, and Spanish-speakers compared to English-only speakers.
Democrats, they found, were no more likely to do online searchers related to mental health after the election than they had been before, and their searches remained as elevated as ever compared to Republicans.
Women did not search for ‘anxiety,’ ‘depression’ or the names of antidepressants any more post-election, and searchers for ‘suicide’ decreased.
But women were more likely to search ‘stress or therapy.’
The election did have real mental health effects for Spanish-only speakers, however, according to the Stanford and Microsoft methodology.
For five out of the six search terms that the study authors used to gauge mental health concerns – suicide/suicidal, anxiety, depression, antidepression/anti-anxiety medications, minus therapy – Spanish speakers made significantly more online searchers after the election.
‘This clear and consistent result shows that Spanish-speaking searchers, and by proxy, Latinos, were indeed more likely to search for mental-health-related terms after the election than before, while English-only searchers showed no consistent change,’ the wrote in Sage Journals.
Admittedly, other groups may have expressed their stress to therapists if they already had them, to friends and family, through activism, or not at all.
For their part, the study authors took this to mean that ‘some Democrats reported mental health declines after Trump’s election as a form of reverse cheerleading, where partisans report evaluations that are more negative than their true beliefs to reflect badly on a president of the opposing party.’
But for Latinos and Spanish speakers – some of whom Trump promised to build a wall to keep out, and called ‘rapists’ – the fear and mental health distress that followed the election was very real, according to the study.