Politics and Mental Health

Before you go any further, this blog is not going to give any insight into health care reform nor will it attempt to sway your interests in any party affiliations. This is a blog about two subjects that have seemingly intertwined in our daily thought process.

At last count, I have watched 2 billion political hate commercials over the past two months. Keep in mind; I only watch about an hour of television a day. The ads run morning, noon and night. They are constantly on and constantly spewing hatred of the other party. The messages are loud and strong: This candidate didn’t pay their taxes, this candidate will ruin the government, this candidate cheated on their SATs, this candidate cheated on their spouse, this candidate is…..BLAH BLAH BLAH! I am waiting for the ad that simply states, “Don’t vote for this candidate because they are a no good rotten SOB who has bad breath, cooties, and will be personally responsible for the downfall of society!” Really?!? Why have we allowed this to go this far in advertising? As I said, this will not turn into a political debate; rather, I want this to be an awareness of what these ads do to society in general. I did not fully comprehend the impact of these commercials until some of my younger patients started to discuss them with me.

Patient X (no relation to Racer X) is a six year old first grade patient of mine. He is coming to see me for some depression and anxiety based around a divorce. He looked troubled last night when he arrived for his appointment, so as a good therapist, I asked him if something was wrong. Patient X answered my question with “Is Christine O’Donnell really a witch? Does she have powers to hurt people? Will Chris Coons come and take my house away because he is the taxman?” Out of the mouths of babes! Wow! Patient X looked noticeably troubled and very sad. I asked where he heard such things and he said he was watching Spongebob Squarepants (one of my personal favorite shows) and the commercials were on seven times. Seven times in a half hour children’s show spot. This seems very bizarre to me. What is the point to all this? Some officials argue children will grow to be a more educated consumer in our society by watching the commercials and debates. Other officials argue children will influence the parents to vote because of schools encouraging students’ active learning about politics. Personally, I think Patient X just wanted to watch a cartoon and be a kid.

On average, I have at least ten to fifteen younger patients ask political questions per week. Before you even think it, there is not one thing wrong with them wanting to discuss politics. Children need to learn about voting and democracy. I fully support educating children at a young age about our system of government. The questions they ask are not the questions about our system of government. They ask questions pertaining to the mudslinging of politicians. They discuss thoughts and feelings surrounding how angry or upset their parents are about “our government” and “why there are no good politicians any more”. They discuss their feelings surrounding an uncertain future because of what is being presented in the commercials. They discuss, dare I say it, the fear of our government and the politicians who are in it.

I cannot offer any quick solutions if your children are feeling generally anxious about our government. In all truth, I am feeling generally anxious about our government, but I can offer some advice for parents:

1. Minimize television time. If kids are exposed to hours of television, they will be exposed to hours of political commercials. Try to get the kids active and go outside.

2. If a child witnesses a rather angry commercial, discuss the content with them and try to process their thoughts and feelings about it.
3. Have family discussion about our system of government rather than political party affiliations and candidates. Our system of government is pretty fascinating.

4. Let kids be kids. Kids need to play and feel safe. Kids should not be encumbered by the rhetoric of politics.

5. Discuss the issues versus the mudslinging.

For the politicians, discuss the issues and stop the mudslinging. Voter apathy occurs because of the constant barrage of garbage spewed out from these ads.