Polls-related stress can aggravate substance abuse
The media has lately been awash with stories of losers in last month’s elections opening up on how they are struggling after spending their savings and borrowed money to run for elective positions.
Some have even admitted that they cannot cater for basics needs due to the capital intensive nature of the campaigns which left them penniless. Others have even asked to be considered for any available government jobs. This is a pointer to the effect the political activities have had on the losers, pointing to serious mental health issues.
Going back a little, an election is a formal group decision making process where a population chooses an individual or multiple individuals to hold a leadership responsibility. History teaches us that the very first election dates as far as the 700BC in the Spartan government. Afterwards, elections have been a global tool for selecting representatives in accordance with democracy.
In a country that is still trying to smart out of the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with a battered economy, a highly contested and divisive election is the powder keg that blows up mental health issues among the populace.
By all standards, the just concluded election divided families and communities and arguably unleashed more anger and frustration than in any other election in recent memory. To vent their feelings, people are flooding social media with comments about how drained they are over the election and the events leading up to it.
Also known as election stress disorders, mental health issues culminating out of elections are not just unique to Kenya. In the US more than 60 per cent of Americans view politics and politicians as a direct source of stress with 56 per cent seeing the election as a stress, according to a 2019 study conducted by the American Psychological Association.
To the public, stress that is related to the election can manifest in people in the same ways that normal stress can occur any other time. That can mean struggling with sleep because one is worried about what was said in a debate or having feelings of mental distraction due to news around the election.
Drug and substance use heightens during the electioneering period and addiction risks are equally high. For those recovering from drug and substance dependence, the electioneering period comes with a lot of relapse risks. For instance, one might be tempted to drink (or use any drug of choice) to “celebrate” their candidates’ victory. At the same time, one might be tempted to drink (or use a drug of choice) to “mourn” the defeat of their candidate.
One of the best ways to avoid a mental breakdown following electoral loss is through reconnecting with family. It is advised to take a break from social media and connect with friends, family and community members in a safe way. If you have concerns over the election, express those with people you feel safe with to get those concerns off your chest.
Another strategy is channeling the stress into something more productive which can be achieved through creating a plan to donate or volunteer with an organisation of choice. If you have strong feelings towards the political system, see what actions can be taken at the local level.
Social and mainstream media play a big part of the elevated stress created by elections in recent years through constant availability of news updates. While it may sound impractical to ask one to ignore the news, it is also pragmatic that one doesn’t have to spend a lot of time consuming such information, especially if it aggravates an already bad situation.
While there are various and numerous ways of coping with election related stress, the most outstanding and commonly recommended is exercise and proper diet. There are several advantages of exercising with the most outstanding being the reduction in levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators.
— Simon Mwangi is the Manager Corporate Communications-NACADA —[email protected]