There is a growing amount of evidence to indicate that presidential campaigns and their outcomes can have negative effects on a person’s health, according to a paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The authors outlined suggestions for health care providers to reverse what researchers called “postelection side effects.”
“Campaigns that give voice to the disenfranchised have been shown to have positive but short-term effects on health,” David R. Williams, PhD, MPH, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health, and Morgan M. Medlock, MD, MDiv, Massachusetts General Hospital-McLean Psychiatry Residency Program, wrote. “At the same time, events linked to the recent presidential campaign and election have given rise to fear and anxiety in many Americans.”
Williams and Medlock cited several surveys following the election of Donald J. Trump to illustrate their point:
•67% of 2,000 kindergarten through 12th grade teachers reported that many U.S. students (especially immigrants, children of immigrants, and Muslims) “were scared and worried” and expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to their family after the election,” since the 2016 presidential campaign started;
•72% of Democrats and 69% of blacks participating in an American Psychological Association survey indicated that the results of the 2016 presidential election was a “significant source of stress”; and
•there was an elevated risk for death from heart disease among both blacks and whites living in 1,836 “high-prejudice” counties, with a stronger effect among blacks.
To invert these outcomes, Williams and Medlock wrote that health care providers should consider:
•endorsing research and initiating studies that systematically assess the health effects of the societal climate and policies;
•taking part in community meetings and conversations to discuss the health impact of social policies and raise awareness of their impact on marginalized groups;
•contemplating more active engagement in advocacy and policymaking;
•affirming and enhancing the resilience resources that patients have that may lower some of stress’s negative effects on their health;
•teaching themselves about local and federal policies and their effects on vulnerable people and ensure that patients understand their rights and avenues for pursuing help;
•taking a stance against discriminatory political rhetoric, hate crimes and incivility;
•acknowledging that social hostility means many people are less likely to use social service and health care; and
•addressing the emotional distress patients may be feeling instead of only prescribing medication.
“Research suggests that [presidential campaign and election] events can have negative health effects on people who have been direct targets of what they perceive as hostility or discrimination and on individuals and communities who feel vulnerable because they belong to a stigmatized, marginalized, or targeted group,” Williams and Medlock wrote. “Future research could delineate the psychosocial and biologic pathways by which these effects occur and identify the factors that facilitate effective coping and resilience. Relatedly, studies are urgently needed that can inform effective community interventions for mitigating the potential negative effects of social hostility on health.”
Williams and Medlock also warned that the impact of threatened social service cuts from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act could be dire, noting that when the Reagan administration made “large” cuts to health and human services programs, the average deductible for a hospital stay doubled, 1 million people no longer received food stamps, 600,000 Medicaid beneficiaries lost health insurance and there was an increase in infant mortality in “poor areas” of 20 states. – by Janel Miller
Williams reports receiving grants from the NIH and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was well as grants and personal fees from Kellogg Foundation. Medlock reports no relevant financial disclosures.