I don’t know anyone who is doing “well” right now. Have we entered an era of perpetual anxiety and deep uncertainty? Is this the beginnings of what some historians are calling the rise of an authoritarian regime in the US?
Having been in power for less than two weeks, Trump has already reinstated the Global Gag Rule, pledged to revive the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines, banned federal agencies and scientists from publicly reporting their findings, halted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, pledged to build a wall on the Mexico border and much more.
Like many of you, my mental health has significantly declined since the election. I woke up each morning these past two weeks with a blast of adrenaline and a gut-wrenching pit in my stomach. I wearily reach for my phone and open up Twitter to see what Trump plans to roll out today. I scroll through in horror as my hands start to tremor. I’m anxious and drained. It’s not even 8am.
When living in times like this, it’s hard to define a baseline “normal” let alone define wellness.
“People are handling the election of Trump in different ways. Organizing and fighting. Furious. In denial. Ignoring the news out of self-protection. Channeling pain into action. Crying.”
People are handling the election of Trump in different ways. Organizing and fighting. Furious. In denial. Ignoring the news out of self-protection. Channeling pain into action. Crying. Creating art and writing. Seeking escape and solace. Debilitated under the pain. Developing unhealthy coping mechanisms just to get through the days. Terrified. Returning to ritual and drawing on the strengths of their ancestors. Isolating. Desperately needing and relying on community.
Many of us experience a variety of these states throughout the day. All of us wonder: “How bad will this get?”
This one question has been circling around my head over and over again: What is mental wellness under rising authoritarianism? Is it even possible?
As a mental health advocate, I have never seen a national mental breakdown on this scale. Therapists, doctors, and healers have shared the same sentiment: Trump has sparked a tremendous uptick in emotional distress and requested services from their patients. Mental health challenges have developed or severely intensified for people across the nation. New physical health challenges are emerging. More people are seeking out medication — or whatever tools they can access — to manage the stress and pain. Friends are turning to self-harm and relapsing.
This is even more intensified for those most impacted by the Trump administration — Black & Brown folks, Muslims, low-income communities, immigrants, people with disabilities, queer and trans folks, and women of all backgrounds. Communities are grasping to cope with the anxiety of these uncertain times — needing to figure out how to access healthcare, protect their families from the uptick of racial violence, and navigate immigration challenges brought on by Trump.
“What is mental wellness under rising authoritarianism? Is it even possible?”
The concept of wellness under the rising authoritarianism of Trump seems like an oxymoron — and it is. As Jiddu KrishnamurtiIt said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” This is a new era. How we understand mental health and wellness must change to meet the times.
Questions that have been rattling around my head:
- How are we preparing for mental wellness in this new era?
- How does our work change now?
- How do we redefine wellness for this time?
- How can we help people survive under Trump and meet the increasing demand for services?
- Who needs to be in this conversation who isn’t?
- How are we rethinking diagnosis?
- How do our priorities shift?
Western medicine generally asserts mental illness as an individual plight: That people with mental health challenges have chemical imbalances and we are each personally responsible for achieving our own wellness. While a person’s genetic and neurological composition are often contributing factors, conditions of society like racism and poverty also deeply impact mental health. Black and Brown mental health advocates — who are often sidelined from mainstream mental health conversations — have been asserting this and organizing around it for years. Trump is a symptom, not a root cause. He is a reflection of the conditions that communities of color have faced and fought in the U.S. since its inception.
Conversations about mental health in the Trump era must include the impact of social systems. Our failure to do so is incomplete and dangerous. Incomplete because repressive governments correlate to poor mental health outcomes. Dangerous because it gaslights people into thinking that their mental health challenges are an individual problem and not a collective failure of systems.
“Trump is a symptom, not a root cause. He is a reflection of the conditions that communities of color have faced and fought in the U.S. since its inception.”
As for the flood of Trump updates, many of us are reaching a breaking point. For those of us who have the privilege to pull away from the news, knowing how much to take in and how much to withdraw is proving very difficult. We can’t channel our energy into building if it’s all spent digesting and reacting to the horror. Turning inward at this juncture in history — while necessary — often feels not only irresponsible, but impossible. I’m sure there’s a balance to strike here, but I certainly haven’t found it yet.
I intend to focus up on self-care over the next few days and I hope those around me will too. I want to tidy up my space, do an activity that puts me out of my head and into my body, return lingering texts from friends and family, get some laundry done, be outside and away from my computer for awhile, get a full night’s sleep, and make a therapy appointment.
Over the next several years, there will be no shortage of opportunities to plug into social change work. We need you for this uphill battle: We need you rested and with eyes wide open. We need you focused and we need you at your most creative. Now more than ever, each of us is called to find balance between the energy to nourish ourselves and our loved ones, and the energy to flow into social change. There is urgency to build community and resist this administration. Give yourself the time and space to build up some strength and when you’re ready to get going, start here.
If you’re in crisis right now, I see you. If you are struggling to get through the days, know that you are not alone. Here are some resources to support yourself and loved ones:
- Crisis Text Line
- San Francisco Peer-Run Warm-line
- Trans Lifeline
- Befrienders Worldwide
- Find a list of warm lines across the US here
- Find a list of hotlines & mental health resources across the US here
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database