Political depression may be a clinical condition that meets APA criteria for depressive disorders. Symptoms include a depressed or irritable mood most days for most of the day along with thoughts and feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness. Other symptoms may include a constant state of negative self-talk about the past, present and future that may perpetuate or even create the condition. Finally, these symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” DSM 5 criteria MDD
The political part of the diagnosis may be more difficult to define. A politically induced depressive episode may precede, trigger or exacerbate an already active depressive state. However, political depression may bring an added dimension, the loss of the thoughts and feelings of control over one’s destiny. The perception that work, education, imagination and perseverance do not matter and that there is a ceiling on one’s possibilities. This perception may include a particularly powerful American angst owing to centuries old hardwiring of the proposition of unlimited possibility unencumbered by race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or class/wealth.
There may be a melancholy that sets in for older adults who have spent a lifetime building a world on a foundation that appears to have crumbled. Political depression may include a period of bereavement where one mourns the death of the body politic, fondly recalling and reliving experiences of the deceased, a coping mechanism of escape, avoidance and self soothing not far removed from the self-reinforcing quality of drug addiction. Younger adults may experience anxiety and even rage, feeling duped or betrayed, unwilling to begin the daunting task of a re-examination of belief systems. Political depression may, in turn, trigger an even deeper crisis in meaning of life issues as we find ourselves out of step with core beliefs
Political Depression and Fear
Political depression may be partially driven by the fear that one may be materially harmed or socially excluded by conditions beyond one’s control. There may be an element of persecution present; thoughts that one’s government is being driven by a societal paranoia, a fear of the other and that one is the other. There may even be thoughts that one’s society is breeding feelings of inferiority for some of it’s population and that those attempts are so subtle and Machiavellian as to make one question his or her own reality. This may, in turn, create a psychically disturbing gaslight effect, the systematic attempt by a person or institution to erode another’s reality by telling them that what they are experiencing isn’t so.
In short, we may be set adrift in times of political depression, unable to navigate in a murky ocean where nothing is recognizable, there is no land in sight, where the sun, moon and stars all seem out of place and we feel helpless to alter what we perceive as potentially cataclysmic events or limiting situations that go against the very essence of our own belief systems.
The Therapist’s role in Political Depression
Dr. Richard Brouillette, author of Why Therapists Should Talk Politics, says that when an economic system or government is responsible for personal harm, those affected can feel profoundly helpless and cover that helplessness with anger, guilt and self-criticism. According to Dr. Brouillette, therapists have typically avoided social and political issues in session, instead re-directing conversation towards symptoms, coping skills, and relevant issues from personal and family life as if to say, the situation exists, deal with it! However, while therapeutic attempts at restricting the circle of meaningful psychological events may work for monkish individuals living on mountaintops, it may only further our sense of isolation from a world changed or operating in a manner we have lost faith or understanding in.
Political depression (PD) may be all about our vision in relationship to our environment. Those experiencing PD may normally be active and fervent doers, people of passion with a sense of responsibility for government’s role in working towards those visions and yes, it may include a desire for the power and opportunity to influence and govern others. A price for this great passionate caring and desire may be a vulnerability to extreme feelings of loss of control and helplessness, deep wounds that may very well drive us down the rabbit hole of apathy and isolation where, for a time, it is enough to simply not face the pain of our present perception of that reality.
While a clearer, richer definition of Political Depression may emerge from an ongoing discussion by those affected by it, what seems abundantly clear in the here and now is that Political Depression has knocked on the clinician’s door and that it is a therapeutic responsibility to address what the patient brings through that door. While therapist may debate the how of processing political depression, there may be no more debate on its existence. It is here, it is now, and we as therapists have a responsibility to facilitate healing and growth in the wholeness of our patient’s, not just in the parts we deem important.
Dr. Lusson facilitates a weekly group session on Politlcal Depression in Santa Monica, Ca. For further information contact Dr. Lusson at email@example.com.