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Our Mental Health Crisis

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A soothing picture of cats becoming friends. (Luca kitten and Zooey cat)

I’ve been trying to write something brilliant on mental health, but I’m not a mental health expert, and I think it’s important right now to talk about this.

We’ve had a terrible decade and more. There’s been enough in it to affect all our mental health. And it’s not over yet.

We haven’t dealt with this national crisis. We all need help. It affects our personal lives and our politics.

It goes back at least to the financial crisis of 2008.

The election of Barack Obama loosed American racism via the Tea Party, which morphed into MAGA. All hate, all the time. That torrent of hate eats away at us. It’s spread into hating LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, Jews, and anyone who dares not to hate the hated ones.

Along with that hate came denial that it was hate at all. Call it hate? You’re the hater. This gaslighting is a feature of Fox News and other Murdoch publications, along with the Republican Party.

And then, of course, came Donald Trump, narcissist and abuser. His election itself was traumatic with late reversals and the swinging of the Times election needle. Narcissists take up all the oxygen. There was too much of him during the campaign, and we had no respite from him during his presidency. His whining voice, his bad decisions, his petty feuds, his lies. On top of that, he is an abuser. We watched him abuse the people who worked for him; Josh Marshall called them “dignity wraiths,” as we saw Mitt Romney dining with him. No responsibility fell on Trump; everyone else was to blame.

Four years of abuse from a person in a position that is very much like the father’s position in a family. No escape. I would be very happy never to hear his name or voice again.

He did have his admirers, largely the Tea Party and MAGA crowd, who were happy to see him hate the people they hated. Families were torn apart and remain estranged, weakening bonds we depend on.

And then came COVID-19. Millions died. We didn’t know what the disease was or how to deal with it at first, beyond basic public health recommendations, which were quickly dismissed by Trump and his followers in their fantasies. We still live with that damage to public health.

Our lives were disrupted, and we were further isolated from each other. Slowly, slowly, it seemed in our fear and mourning, scientists figured out the virus, treatments, and a vaccine. The nightmare wore down, but it left millions dead and the rest of us damaged.

Fear of impoverishment, spreading hate, abuse by a narcissist, and then fear of death, accompanied by increasing isolation from family, friends, and those we might meet to become friends. For a decade and more. Now we have the Supreme Court disassembling the Constitution, and we fear that Trump will be back, worse this time.

I’d like to see the mental health aspect more explicitly recognized and addressed by public figures. Just before they were inaugurated, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris participated in a memorial for COVID victims. We haven’t heard much since then, from anyone.

We need recognition of these stresses from people who are not politicians. Politicians are not experts in mental health; one might argue the reverse. Further, Trump and MAGA have politicized discussion of these issues. Americans have never been good at this sort of introspection anyway.

Individually, we need to take care of ourselves. Get professional therapy if you need it. Be kind to yourself and others. Find something you can do that makes a difference – to yourself or more broadly. My friend Martin Pfeiffer likes to end the day with a reminder on Bluesky that “Together is the only way we build liveable todays and tomorrows.” Give yourself and others a hug.

Update (7/2/2024): I left out two big contributors to our mental states – global warming and the constant death toll by shootings. I have no excuse for leaving them out, other than I wrote this too quickly.

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