Just say no to news stories about ‘post election stress disorder’

Joy Victory is deputy managing editor of HealthNewsReview.org. She tweets as @thejoyvictory.

I had hoped it would be tongue-in-cheek, but Kaiser Health News and CNN very earnestly brought us a trend story this week on the apparent newfound epidemic of “post election stress disorder.”

post election stress disorderHinging mostly on anecdotal statements and this November essay that ran in Psychology Today, the CNN story says “Mental health professionals around the country, especially those working in Democratic strongholds, report a stream of patients coming in with anxiety and depression related to–or worsened by–the blast of daily news on the new administration.”

It’s one thing to talk about how some people are struggling to adapt to the nation’s shift to a right-wing, conservative administration.

It’s another to slap it with a label–one that that sounds similar to the very real, very hard-to-treat mental diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Why?

First, it medicalizes a normal state of existence, explained psychiatrist Dr. Allen Frances, professor and chairman emeritus of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine.

He sympathized with people who are upset by the election results, but issued an “oy vey” to the notion that they have a disorder.

“Everyone should feel worry at Trump’s election–he is the greatest threat to U.S. democracy in our 240-year history. But the appropriateness of the feeling is precisely what makes the reporting so inappropriate. It is not a mental disorder to feel normal emotions in response to life stress,” he said via email.

Also, dubbing it a disorder is demeaning to those who are struggling with PTSD. “Medicalizing daily life trivializes psychiatric disorders,” Frances said.

This point was made somewhat less eloquently by U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican and injured veteran from Florida, who was interviewed by FOX News. In 2010, he was severely injured by an improvised explosive device and lost both his legs.

“There was a big missed opportunity in naming it ‘Post-Election Stress Disorder,'” he said. “I would have preferred they name it ‘Post-Inauguration Stress Disorder,’ that way they could have called it ‘PISD.’ There’s a big difference between being pissed off about things and what happens on the battlefield.”

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Rachel A. Buddeberg

February 22, 2017 at 12:30 pm

I agree that we want to be careful not to pathologize normal reactions and would even venture to say that there is something more disconcerting about not being upset about what is happening in the US. However, I also want to urge us not to minimize how challenging this situation can be for those of us who have survived trauma, in particular sexual trauma. Having an administration that is filled with white men who have been accused of sexual abuse, have bragged about it, and minimized it, can be challenging.

Furthermore, there also seems to be a much deeper threat to the values so many Americans proclaim (albeit not always live up to), which makes this situation psychologically more challenging as well. There seems to be more going on here than people being “pissed off” about who won the election. As Dr. Allen Frances points out, this does not reflect a disorder, however, it still might require more emotional and psychological support than would be after a normal election.