I am a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. After practicing for three decades with children, teens, and adults I have found today’s political climate is feeling threatening to many people I treat. While many children and adults who suffer from anxiety disorders seek treatment with psychotherapy and often medication, recently I am finding children and adults are reporting increased anxiety due to what they are hearing in the news.
The major themes are a generalized feeling of increased distrust and lack of safety. Children who hear their parents discuss politics and news events of shootings and crude statements by political candidates increase their fears of loss of their parents or harm coming to them and themselves. When they hear political talk by their teachers and see security provisions such as security guards in their schools they are frightened. It is essential that adults restrict their kids’ exposure to talk about the news and prevent their kids from watching TV news programs with frightening graphics and content.
Children and teens need answers to questions in brief reassuring tones listening attentively to their inquiries that should never be dismissed. Parents are busy and rushed and may inadvertently brush off a child’s worry as if it were fleeting and inconsequential. This is a mistake.
Adults with anxiety disorders find their general unease increasing their feelings of anxiety, distrustfulness, and lack of safety in their world. Their sense of general insecurity is on the rise. Generalized anxiety, OCD, somatic complaints, and panic attacks that anxiety-ridden kids and adults painfully contend with grow when they hear the news of threatening events.
As a long experienced therapist I recommend that during physical exams in doctor’s offices and emergency rooms or psychological assessments of parents and children in school settings that all physicians and school counselors ask questions about currents anxiety levels as part of their routine evaluations. Early intervention is crucial.
Here’s an example about a child written as a composite of teenagers that I treat to disguise any particular patient. A twelve year old with Attention Deficit Disorder with average intelligence is generally hyperactive and has trouble following routines and doing his homework even with medication and psychotherapy. However, he listens attentively to adults who talk about the news in his environment when they are discussing their perceptions of information they believe about the political presidential candidates. Because he is not self-reflective or capable of analyzing what he hears, he draws broad conclusions based on little information. He cites certain candidates as “killers” and “dangerous.” He is already insecure, with poor boundaries and generally impulsive. These beliefs add to the general distrust he feels about adults and the world he lives in. His anxiety is increasing and his school performance is getting worse.
Here’s an example about a woman also written as a composite of working women that I treat to disguise any particular patient. A woman in her fifties works for a technology corporation. She is single, politically astute, and very intelligent. While she feels women are being victimized by Donald Trump’s political comments she not only feels anxious in her workplace but angry at herself for being complicit in allowing impropriety in the business world. She works in a heterogeneous setting where misogyny is rampant. In order to be “one of the boys” she hasn’t spoken out when she has heard crude statements about women. She feels very distrustful of these men who in other ways she likes and respects their work. She has begun to speak out and explain to them the fear of being mistreated not only verbally but physically. Along with her anxiety has come a new courage to be assertive and expressive when she learns of other women being mistreated by male workers no longer placing the potential consequences to her as a priority.
As a psychotherapist I have learned that I must find ways to discover if my patients’ anxiety levels are being affected by today’s political climate even when they don’t talk about the news directly. I have found that my patients appreciate my gentle questions about how they are reacting to what they hear in the news, not realizing how sometimes in subtle ways they are more worrisome than usual. When they feel understood and not judged, they feel less alone and their anxiety eases.