America To Turkey, Learning To Live With "Post-Election Stress Disorder"
Those who supported Turkey's opposition in the recent national elections are suffering a particular syndrome since the victory of incumbent President Erdogan. They could seek advice from supporters of Hillary Clinton, or even Al Gore.
ISTANBUL — Turkey’s elections are over, but the tension remains. Weeks later, a portion of the Turkish population is dealing with stress, disappointment – even outright anger.
And let’s not even get started with social media – particularly Twitter – because it’s a bloodbath over there.
Between the pandemic, the ongoing Turkish economic crisis and the recent deadly earthquakes, Turks have been living through a highly stressful environment for quite some time. The elections, in which incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won for the second time, have caused a phenomenon called post-election stress disorder.
Let’s back up and define our terms. The results of the elections did not put an end to this general sense of tension. On the contrary – extreme tension during the electoral period transforms into a sense of post-election trauma.
The term to define this situation is parallel to the already existing clinical term of post-traumatic stress disorder: “post election stress disorder,” or PESD.
The term was first used after the 2000 presidential election in the U.S., when Al Gore and George W. Bush fought a tough race, whose results remained unclear until, in a highly political 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court named Bush as the winner.
Such a close election, which left half the nation unhappy with the result, created a real psychological breakdown among many. The election left deep scars, which to some extent last to this day.
Long tail of the 2000 U.S. election
On the eve of the 2016 election victory of U.S. President Donald Trump, the electorate went to bed with a feeling of great uncertainty and woke up to a shock: Trump had won. The ensuing feelings of rage and hopelessness contributed to the not-uncommon experience we can describe as PESD.
Although PESD has not been fully defined in a clinical way, available data suggest real symptoms: hopelessness, anxiety about the future, insecurity, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, stomach ache, headache, fatigue, lack of sleep, lack of concentration and more.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), fieldwork during the presidential elections of 2016 and 2020 revealed that 52% of voters experienced election stress, meaning they suffered from one or more of the symptoms above in 2016 – with that number rising dramatically to 68% in 2020.
A Hillary Clinton supporter holds up a "Not My President" sign in protest of Donald Trump.
That research also recorded an interesting piece of data. While higher levels of stress were found among voters on the losing side, a significant number of those in the winning camp experience stress as well.
During critical elections, like the one Turkey just had, tension and stress peak among polarized blocs of voters, and many struggled to digest the loss.
With elections worldwide likely to remain polarized, and the ongoing challenge of social media keeping people tense and pitted against one other, stress and trauma reactions after elections are increasingly likely.
As with all trauma, voters who suffer from election trauma first seek methods to deny the results before looking for somewhere to direct their anger and shock.
It’s not for nothing that for many, the first reaction to both the first and the second round of the recent presidential elections in Turkey was denial. The question of ballot security also became a top concern for many – an inevitable concern when trust in institutions is weak.
After confusion and shock comes rage, which is most apparent on social media in Turkey. It’s definitely important that this feeling is expressed. But when voters cannot find a means to channel their rage, it inevitably drags them to pessimism and depression.
Erdogan still in charge, and not going anywhere soon
Depo Photos via ZUMA
Discouraged voters may drop out of politics
There are many things that we can do to deal with PESD. First, distancing yourself from social media and not tuning in to the news or political debate shows for a while may help. You don’t need to stop following politics or worry about the state of the country – think of it as an opportunity to rejuvenate and recharge your batteries.
Alternatively, joining the world of politics in a more active, politically organized way could be a serious alternative for voters who experience disappointment and rage.
In Turkey, post-election stress may affect two groups particularly strongly: the 5 million young people who voted for the first time and those who got interested in politics for the first time during this period.
We – and political parties – should heed the voice of those groups, and understand their disappointment. If not, I fear these groups may drop out of politics in the future. This would be a huge loss for a dynamic country like Turkey because the structural problems of our country can only be solved if the whole nation is politically active and involved.
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