This weekend has been full of joy, relief and celebration. Countless people celebrating as if a war has been won and the truth is, this was an important battle. But this is only a step forward and much more work has to be done. The election is just a beginning.
But let’s talk about how this all relates to mental health.
Biology, genetics, upbringing, trauma can all have an impact on our mental health, however it is important to remember that the system and the society we live in greatly affects our mental health as well. Living within a system that supports racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bigotry or discrimination creates significant patterns of mental health issues. There is a reason they are called “social determinants of health”. For example, research has shown that the mental health of Indigenous people is very much connected to their ability to maintain and honour their culture as well as the trauma they have lived at the hand of the systems of oppression that exist. Likewise, studies have been done on the negative mental health impacts of microaggressions on Black people. Microaggressions and individual doses of racist poison are fueled by the system that circulates that poison. Furthermore, factors like poverty and rates of incarceration can be social determinants of health, and are impacted by race as well.
So many of us are tired. We have been stressed, worried, nervous. We are exhausted from the process of the election as well as the hopelessness and hatred that was pushed by the last 4 years. It also bears repeating that BIPOC are especially tired and their mental health feels the effects of all of this, of living within this system.
I read a tweet yesterday discussing some of the racial implications of Kamala Harris’s position as the new Vice President of the United States. One of the comments, unsurprisingly from a white woman, was “Why do you have to make everything about race?” As one of my best friends would say “Are you dumb or are you dumb?” This may be a bit harsh, but what I’m trying to say is that it would be myopic to think that anyone has to MAKE this election about race.
This election has been stressful and anxiety inducing for so many people. While we need renewed fervour in our efforts, we also need to remember self-care. Take time to hold space for yourself and what your body and mind need. Likewise remember that BIPOC need this as well. We as white people need to avoid asking them to weigh in on the election, to discuss their experiences and trauma at length for our understanding, unless it is freely offered. And when it is offered, we need to hold space for it and amplify it.
Hopelessness and the spread of hatred has had an effect on all of our mental health. This election has been stressful for everyone, especially those directly affected by said hatred and the policies that uphold it. Trump may have been removed but the system that put him there in the first place still remains. Joy and relief can exist at the same time as concern and fear. This election has prompted complex emotions. The thought that Biden is a better choice than Trump and the thought that Biden is a choice we are settling for can exist simultaneously. A victory can have been won at the same time as much more work needing to be done.
The results of these election do not promise a brand new world, a dissolution of the systems of oppression that have run rampant for the past 4 years or a magical solution. Allow people the space to feel their complicated emotions, to see both sides of the situation. This all affects our mental health and we need to give ourselves space to process while finding the strength to keep doing the work to eradicate the problems that still exist.