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Trump victory triggers increase in calls to mental health agencies

Univision contacted 14 mental health organizations and got the same answer: “We are overwhelmed.” Experts are telling clients to continue with their routine.
11 Nov 2016 – 05:14 PM EST
A suicide prevention hotline said it has not received as many 1 a.m. calls since Robin Williams killed himself. Crédito: John Moore/Getty Images

“I've been upset all day, and I am still nauseous. I've eaten almost nothing, and now I have a migraine,” said Sofia Daigneau. “I am very afraid for my future.”

The former Air Force aviator from Ware, Mass., was describing her symptoms since she learned that her candidate in Tuesday's elections, Hillary Clinton, had lost to Donald Trump.

She was not alone. Univision Noticias contacted 14 mental health organizations, many of them in leading universities, and heard the same comment over and over: “We are overwhelmed.” “We got calls and visits by students all day.” “There are people who fear for their rights, their security, their children.”

Dr. Allen O’Barr, director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, said he was forced to keep his door open and to be ready to go anywhere a student needed him.

“The divisive elements and rhetoric of this electoral campaign had a major impact on the students,” wrote Drs. Todd Sevig and Mishelle Rodriguez at the University of Michigan. “Some are afraid, anxious about what's going to happen, how laws and policies might change, and they feel, 'I am not valued.'”

“Our services offer a private space to explore those feelings,” they wrote.

The Web page of Lifeline, a national suicide prevention hotline, was overwhelmed. And its telephone lines had 15-minute wait, which unleashed frustrations among callers who posted on its Facebook page.

“We saw a 30 percent increase in calls on Monday from people who were afraid and anxious about what was about to happen,” said Dr. John Draper, director of the non-profit.

“And then Tuesday we saw the numbers rising as the evening approached. The number doubled, and at 1 am it was a 140 percent increase. That's 660 calls per minute,” Draper added – the highest number at that hour since actor Robin Williams committed suicide.

“When people start to have those feelings of loss, like some people are feeling after the elections, everything is amplified, everything feels more overwhelming,” Draper added.

The Crisis Text Line put it this way: “The results Tuesday were somewhat surprising, for the people who are happy with the results as well as the people who are not happy. The entire country is feeling something one way or another.”

The electoral campaign clearly generated a lot of anxiety among some people. Fifty-two percent of U.S. adults felt the elections were “a significant source of stress,” according to a poll by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The symptoms reported as a result of electoral stress include difficulty sleeping, loss of energy and difficulty focusing. A Northwestern University pamphlet for people affected by the elections noted other symptoms such as shock, disconnection from other people, disbelief, blame, rage, sadness and frequent crying.

“How do you control fear? As a woman and an immigrant, I am afraid,” said Carolina González Valencia, an artist and doctoral candidate in the Bates College Department of Visual Arts and Culture. “When you're hoping that the new president does not do any of the things he promised to do, it's hard to stay optimistic.”

Some organizations have already started trying to counteract the impact of Tuesday's elections.

Kari Hudnell, spokesperson GLSEN, which defends LGBT students in primary and high schools, said her group will continue working to improve the emotional security of students, the professional development of teachers and the adoption of inclusive policies.

“Our local work on the ground, in individual schools, districts, communities, which has always been an important part of our mission, will be even more important in coming years,” she added.

So what should you do if you are depressed?

Stick to your routine. “When things are changing, when big transitions are happening, and you feel like you cannot get out of bed, get out of bed! Go to work. Do what you have to do. Do what you normally do,” said Draper. “That reminds you that you control some things in your life, and that they don't have to change.”

Look for support from people around you. “Talk to anyone who shares your concerns, but also people who can laugh with you, people who can have fun with you,” he added.

Limit your exposure to whatever brothers you. “You don't need to spend 24 hours a day watching the news. You can limit it to 30 minutes, whatever you can before your blood pressure starts to rise,” he recommended. “Spend time with friends, with family. And you don't have to talk about politics all the time, especially with people that you know have different political views. If you can talk about other things, things that you can agree on, do it.”

T he best medicine is to stay active. “Do things that are positive. Try harder to be gentle and compassionate. This is a good time to volunteer for community work,” he said. “Instead of sitting down and telling yourself that there's nothing you can do, think about what you can do for other people.” “Find the good in the world, and try to strengthen it,” added O'Barr.

If you're a friend or relative of people who are depressed, try to be a good listener, pay real attention to them. Be ready to accept that they feel bad, that they feel that there's no justice, that they are desperately sad. Keep talking, and avoid confrontations.

And if things get really difficult, get professional help.

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