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Mental Health Professionals Seeing People For Post-Election Anxiety

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump speaks at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville, N.C., during his USA Thank You Tour.

Slate’s Michelle Goldberg has called it “ Trump-induced anxiety” and “a national nervous breakdown.”

Whatever you call it, therapists have seen an uptick in patients talking about election anxiety for the last year.

And since President-elect Donald Trump was elected, the number of people and intensity of anxiety has increased.

Jim Jobin, president of the National Alliance on Mental Health in Southern Nevada, said his group started getting calls from people who live with mental illness or family and friends of people who live with mental illness. 

“We were seeing a huge spike in those calls and the content of those calls were continually circling back to, 'Now that Donald Trump has been elected I’m unsure about my future,'" he said.

Jobin said humans don't do well with uncertainty. He said we like to be able to predict the future in a knowable way. The unpredictable nature of the election made many people feel unsafe. 

It became so bad at UNLV that the Center for Individual, Couple and Family Counseling decided to hold group therapy sessions to help people process the election, and what it means to their lives going forward.

Katherine Hertlein, the director of the marriage and family therapy program at UNLV, said this is the first time this type of therapy has been offered at the university.

“When our clinicians began to work with their clients in the week after the election and noticed that a lot time was spent in those sessions addressing issues related to the election ... we recognized that this was the need,” she said.

Hertlein said many people felt disempowered by the election of Donald Trump. 

“People need to feel safe, and part of that safety is also predicated on their ability to not only to predict, but also feel like they have some control and some level of empowerment in what’s happening in their lives,” she said.

Hertlein said part of what the group sessions focus on is why people feel powerless and what they can do to feel empowered again. 

Jobin said it is important to challenge those feelings of disempowerment and fear.

He said a lot of this election was based on emotion. Humans, he said, can be persuaded to to have an emotional response to something, even when it is not warranted. 

He said with his clients he challenges those emotions. 

“When is there maybe a mental mirage? When is there maybe a cognitive distortion and we’re reaching catastrophic conclusions that don’t necessarily fit evidence,” he said.

Hertlein said there are people with legitimate fears, like students who were covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. They are concerned that President-elect Trump will overturn President Barack Obama's executive order creating the program. 

“We’re not going to challenge the legitimacy of someone’s fear," she said. "If they’re afraid, it might be for a very good reason.” 

Instead, Hertlein said it is important to manage those fears and help people get back to a place mentally where they feel safe. 

Katherine Hertlein, director, marriage and family therapy program at the UNLV Greenspun College of Urban Affairs; Jim Jobin, president, National Alliance Mental Health in Southern Nevada

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)
Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.