Carol Wachs, a Manhattan psychologist, has recently started seeing an old patient again. The patient had previously come to her in distress over the attacks on the Twin Towers, and was seeking treatment again, years, later, for a new menace: Donald Trump. According to Wachs, the patient sees startling parallels between Trump’s rise to power and the stories she has heard from her grandparents, who are Holocaust survivors.
Wachs’ patient is not alone in her distress. In a national poll of 1000 voting age Americans, 43 percent of the respondents reported experiencing emotional trauma in response to Trump’s campaign and subsequent election. This crisis has only continued to escalate, and recently, therapists banded together to take action. Over 3,000 mental health practitioners signed a manifesto declaring Trump’s tendency for scapegoating, intolerance and blatant sexism a “threat to the well-being of the people [they] care for”. The manifesto states that Trump’s chaotic campaign has brought up feelings of shame, fear, and helplessness among minority groups, who feel alienated and personally targeted by his message.
Although anxiety and fear over a Trump presidency is a normal emotional reaction and not a clinical condition, Trump’s presidency is also contributing to existing feelings of depression in individuals who are already mentally ill. Kimberly Grocher, a psychotherapist in New York, says that Trump-induced distress among her patients is usually combined with other triggers, and can intensify already existing feelings of depression. According to Grocher, for many minority patients, Trump’s proposed policies make them worry about the safety of their communities in upcoming years. For women, the fact that Trump was successful, even with his misogynistic attitude, is extremely disheartening. Many already marginalized groups feel that their rights may be severely limited in the upcoming years, undoing all the progress that has already been made.
With regards to mental healthcare, Trump has campaigned on the promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, a 2010 law which provides medical coverage including mental health care to an estimated 20 million Americans. Although the Affordable Care Act was in no way perfect, it did provide mentally ill patients with easier access to treatment. In addition, as of now, Trump has been very firm about repealing the law, but has given no concrete plans to replace it. If President Trump is successful in repealing the ACA, he will effectively take away access to treatment from millions of Americans overnight, and the results would be disastrous. Many Americans would be forced to seek treatment in emergency rooms instead of the appropriate facilities. Untreated mental disorders such as depression would most likely lead to higher suicide rates.
America can’t be great if Trump keeps spewing such divisive, alienating rhetoric. We can’t thrive as a nation if so many Americans are living with untreated mental illnesses. For millions of people struggling to heal not only sick bodies but also shattered minds, the current political climate might trigger a nationwide breakdown.