He’s already the best at everything he does, whether building walls, treating women with respect or understanding taxes. But there is one triumph that Donald Trump hasn't claimed for himself, rather it has been bestowed upon him by psychologists, therapists and doctors. They say that no one is doing more to damage the American psyche right now.
A country’s self-image is taking a drubbing – and it's not just the product of each successive "shithole" comment. What's raising the greatest concern among experts is that this suffering is becoming chronic. Since the election, one of the greatest sources of stress for Americans has become the future of their country. And it is well on its way toward making them lastingly ill.
Fully three-quarters of Americans now complain of mental or physical symptoms of stress. One-third report feeling nervous or anxious, and just over one-third say they feel irritability or anger. Complaints about head- and stomach aches are also on the rise. Meanwhile, many are having more trouble sleeping under their new president, according to "Stress in America: The State of Our Nation" by the American Psychological Association, a report released in November. The study concludes that a majority of all adults spanning every generation consider this to be the lowest point in the country’s history that they can remember. It weighs heavily on their minds – and it is at least in part because of Trump.
The nationwide study "Stress in America" was commissioned by the American Psychological Association (APA), the largest organization of its kind in the United States. During the U.S. election campaign and in the period immediately following, APA experts detected a significant rise in stress levels for the first time since the association began conducting the study in 2007. The reason was also new: Never before had the country reacted as nervously to a presidential election as it did in 2016. Nothing stressed its population out more. Prior to Trump, issues like jobs, money and the economy had always topped the list.
In short, the stress being felt by millions is more political than ever before. "Uncertainty," plays a key role in that, says Vaile Wright, director of research at APA. "We have an unpredictable president who regularly breaks social norms, and while these were some of the behaviors that his supporters liked about him, it can still lead to stress."
Psychotherapists are reporting an uptick in the number of patients who are afraid they may soon be living in a country in which they are no longer safe. "These are not just fears related to which tax bracket you fall into," says clinical psychologist Jennifer Sweeton. "At the core, these fears are about annihilation." It may be an extreme choice of words and a subjective impression, but it’s also one that the expert and other doctors say they are encountering in their work. Particularly among immigrants, survivors of sexual assault and refugees, there are many who feel they are facing an existential threat – a product of the president’s derogatory manner, his efforts to fundamentally change immigration policies and his racist remarks. "They report that they are under siege, with little protection or basic rights," reports Angela Londoño-McConnell, a psychologist based in Georgia.