During the 2016 election cycle, the term “Election Stress Disorder” was coined by psychologist, Dr. Steven Stosny, PhD. During that time, psychologists and therapists noticed a sizable increase in patients reporting anxiety, stress, and depression.
Dr. Stosny warns that this electoral year may be worse because of how pervasive negative emotions surrounding COVID-19 are. People are juggling fear of catching or spreading the virus, fear for the economy, anger with the way others are handling things, financial set-backs, other health concerns, loss of loved ones, social isolation, food insecurity, and more. Throw in the very divisive state of our political climate, and it’s not hard to see why stress, anxiety, and depression have the potential to increase dramatically surrounding the 2020 election. How should primary and other care providers address stress and depression during this season?
Providers need to be extra sensitive to and aware of their patient’s mental health. With the lack of certainty around these significant issues in the U.S., many people are experiencing overwhelm, burnout and strong negative feelings. During and after the 2016 election, many patients reported having trouble sleeping, issues focusing at work and fighting more with family members.
No matter the outcome of the election, anticipate that there will be some negative reactions. What providers need to recognize are the signs of too much stress in patients, which can become worse and lead to depression. These signs include irritability, resentment, hostility, a lack of motivation or connection and physical or emotional tension, such as before turning on the news.
What can providers do to help their patients and staff? Start by assessing for or asking about symptoms. Be prepared with a list of suggested coping strategies and mental health resources. Is there an Employee Assistance Program available to staff, for example? Is there a way to limit exposure to negative stimuli, such as excessive news? Are there apps that might be helpful for mindfulness and relaxation? Have a list of support groups, therapists and counselors, or tools for improving mental health and recovering from trauma. Destigmatize the need for mental health support or medication to treat anxiety and depression.
If a provider believes that a patient or staff member is at risk for severe depresion or suicide, the S.L.A.P. method for assessing and potentially preventing suicide is good to remember and apply. S.L.A.P. stands for Specific, Lethal, Accessible (or Available), and Proximity. “Specific” refers to whether or not the patient has a plan or if there is any specific date in mind. Don’t be afraid to ask and if the answer is “yes” take action to help the person safely to someone who can help. Next, assess whether the person has access to a “Lethal” means, such as an “Available” weapon? Lastly, inquire about the “Proximity” of others who care? Does the patient have family, friends, coworkers, social groups that may provide support and a reason to seek help in a crisis? People who are farther away from a support system and resources are at a higher risk for suicide than for those who aren’t.
Throughout November and the remainder of the year, keep an eye on your patients’ and others’ mental health, and have a plan in place for addressing tough situations. OmniSure consultants are available for risk management advice on-demand. Start the conversation today.